At its first meeting of the new year, the City Council will vote on changing the campaign finance law, hiring a campaign ethics consultant and whether to put two measures on the ballot.
By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor
Just days before the deadline for candidates to file for the April City Council election, the council will vote at its meeting Monday on two proposals involving the 2006 campaign regarding how much money a person can donate to a candidate and the hiring of an ethics monitor. Also, the council will decide whether to place two measures on the ballot involving term limits and eminent domain.
An ordinance to be proposed to the council would increase the amount of money an individual can donate to a candidate’s campaign from $100 to $250 and would allow private citizens to intervene through the courts if one believes the campaign finance law has been violated.
The council in November directed City Attorney Christi Hogin to draft an ordinance proposal that would allow a person to donate $250 to a candidate’s campaign. The council members said they hoped this would even the playing field somewhat because while candidates are currently limited to receiving $100 per contributor, there is no cap on what private citizens or groups can spend in support of a candidate as long as they are not directly associated with the candidate’s campaign.
The portion of the proposed ordinance allowing a private citizen to enforce the campaign finance law through the courts was not included in response to a council request but rather was most likely a reaction to ongoing litigation between Malibu activists Ozzie Silna and Wade Major. Although it is not specified in Hogin’s staff report, she writes about and provides an attached copy of last month’s appellate court decision ordering Major to pay Silna’s attorney fees for a lawsuit from the 2004 City Council campaign in which Major attempted to bar Silna from financial involvement in the campaign. Major had said that Silna had violated the city’s campaign finance law, but a judge ruled in 2004 that even if this were true, Major did not have the authority to enforce the law. The appellate court used that reasoning for awarding Silna the attorney fees.
The council will have the option to approve the proposed law changes as an urgency ordinance, putting them into effect immediately, or the proposals can go through the regular ordinance process and be approved on a second reading later this month. Since the campaign would already be underway by then, the new law would not affect this year’s race.
Another item on Monday’s council agenda is a proposal by Hogin for her to negotiate a contract with Robert Stern (no relation to Mayor Andy Stern) from the Center for Government Studies that would make him the ethics monitor for the 2006 campaign. The council had requested Stern serve as the monitor for the 2004 campaign, but withdrew its request at the urging of Hogin after an article appeared in the Malibu Surfside News pointing to a loose connection between Stern and the Malibu Bay Co. Hogin said at the time there was no reason to believe Stern’s ethics would be compromised, but since allegations had been made, the perception of something being wrong was there.
According to Hogin’s staff report, 2004 campaign monitor Xandra Kayden has said she would serve again in that role if asked. In 2004, with the help of a commission, Kayden accepted complaints about ethical violations in campaign literature and newspaper advertisements. She then wrote opinions about whether the candidates had committed an ethical violation. However, the candidates were not penalized regardless of her decision. Many of Kayden’s decisions were controversial, and accusations were made that they were biased in favor of the incumbents.
Also on Monday, the council will decide whether to place a measure on the April ballot that would ask voters if they want to increase City Council term limits from two terms to three or to repeal the limits altogether. The voters overwhelmingly approved term limits in 2000, with 65 percent voting in favor of them.
Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich introduced the idea of altering the council term limits law last month. She said she feared the city could lose its institutional memory when council members are forced out of office. Raising or eliminating term limits has already received opposition, with former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan promising to campaign against it. Carrigan said altering term limits was an attempt to keep in power Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley and Councilmember Jeff Jennings, whose terms expire in 2008 and who would be the first people to be termed out under the current law.
Another measure the council will consider putting on the ballot would prohibit the city from selling private property acquired by eminent domain to private parties. Mayor Stern had requested last summer than an item addressing this issue be put before the voters in reaction to a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said a local government could take over private property, under the right of eminent domain, and then allow a private construction project, such as a mall or hotel, on the property, if it were determined to be beneficial to the community.
In the staff report for the proposed measure, Hogin recommended the council not approve the measure for the April election. She wrote that there is pending state and federal legislation on the subject that could make a Malibu law unnecessary, and recommended the city wait to see what happens with that legislation until taking action.