City Council poised to revisit contribution limits

With Malibu’s April 2000 election barely eight months away, the City Council is scheduled to consider new legislation tightening loopholes and clarifying its existing law limiting campaign contributions.

The current ordinance contains two requirements that are more stringent than state law. One feature limits contributions that are made in cash not to exceed $25.00. The other sets a $100 cap on contributions per person per election. The California Political Reform Act sets a limit of $1,000 per year.

The last city election triggered criminal charges against civic activist Remy O’Neill and the Road Worriers. The charges were dismissed as untimely, and the court did not resolve whether the ordinance is so stringent as to violate First Amendment protections regarding free speech and free expression.

The U.S. Supreme Court may resolve similar issues this year in a case that arose in Missouri. Federal law, since the 1970s, limits individual campaign contributions to $1,000 or less. The justices have agreed to resolve whether such a cap under Missouri law violates the voters’ First Amendment rights.

In the meantime, however, the Malibu council may address the question anew on Oct. 13. If the matter goes smoothly, a revamped ordinance could be in effect by Dec. 8.

In a Sept. 20 letter to Mayor Carolyn Van Horn and fellow council members, City Manager Harry Peacock outlined revisions endorsed by the city prosecutor — William Litvak of the Los Angeles law firm Dapeer, Rosenblit & Litvak. Peacock appended a letter by Litvak and concluded the changes would help clarify certain provisions and make them easier to administer.

The 13-page Litvak memo acknowledges that the experience of prosecuting O’Neill has given “a certain degree of insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the ordinance” as currently written. Litvak added, nonetheless, that local requirements in excess of other statutes will almost certainly trigger legal challenges in the event of an enforcement action. He said although such challenges may be inevitable, the proper course is to edit and tighten the language, and to create more flexibility for the prosecutor when choosing an enforcement option.

The Litvak memo asks whether the City Council intends to prohibit any delivery of contributions from an intermediary. The enforcement action against the Road Worriers centered on a $400 check and the contributor’s explanation that she had already received the $100 contributions from her three adult children. Litvak suggests language could be added to the ordinance providing “no person shall make a contribution on behalf of another or while acting as the intermediary or agent of another.” Contributions through intermediaries are not forbidden under the state code.

The memo also seeks a “wobbler” provision that would allow the prosecutor to pursue a violator by filing charges as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. An infraction would preclude a jury trial or court-appointed counsel. The penalty would be a fine of $270 for a first violation, $540 for a second and $1080 for a third. The discretion to pursue one remedy or another would rest with the city attorney or the city prosecutor.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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