Subpoenas issued in council campaign investigation

As part of its investigation into possible campaign finance violations during last year’s City Council race, the state Fair Political Practices Commission recently subpoenaed financial records and donor lists from a local anti-development group that is now attempting to block the subpoena in state court, The Malibu Times has learned.

During last year’s election campaign, the group, Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic on PCH, placed advertisements in The Surfside News indicating how different council members cast votes on proposed development projects, the now-abandoned Civic Center Specific Plan and zoning law changes. The four ads, mostly cartoon maps of a Malibu crammed with traffic and new, large-scale developments, emphasized the voting record of former Councilman Jeff Jennings.

The state commission, which has a policy of not commenting on any case under investigation, apparently regards the ads as campaign-related and therefore subject to its regulation. City Attorney Christi Hogin, acting in conjunction with the commission, said the city and the state are seeking the list of contributors to the Malibu Citizens group as part of their enforcement of campaign disclosure laws. Those laws protect the long-standing right of the public to know who is donating money to elect or defeat a political candidate.

The city is also seeking the financial and bank records of the group, which is headed by Gil Segel, in an effort to determine whether local campaign contribution laws were violated. The Malibu Municipal Code limits individuals’ political contributions to $100 per City Council candidate.

The Malibu Citizens group last week filed a motion in state court challenging the subpoenas on grounds that the ads were only educational and did not advocate a particular result in the April 1998 election. Since the ads were not political, Malibu Citizens argued, the group is not subject to the commission’s regulation, and, based on privacy protections in the First Amendment, they may withhold the identity of its contributors.

“. . .[T]he issuance of the subpoenas is in violation of the rights of [Malibu Citizens], who, having never injected themselves into the political campaign process, are not properly within the purview of the FPPC’s subpoena power,” attorney Bradley Hertz argued in the court filing.

While the ads did not use expressions such as “vote for,” “vote against” or “defeat,” they did highlight Jenning’s votes, and they clearly reflected the group’s anti-development position and their position that Jennings was pro-development. The top of most of the ads read: “Jeff Jennings supported these 9 major projects. Carolyn Van Horn and Walt Keller opposed. These projects would add 30,000 trips per day on PCH!”

Next to some of the nine possible developments caricatured, a box refers to Jenning’s votes. For example, next to a drawing of a new, expansive Civic Center as developed under the abandoned Specific Plan, the box reads: “Voted for Fast Tracking Without Decreasing Density.” On land adjacent to Bluffs Park, the cartoon depicts a four-story hotel, and the box reads: “Voted for Commercial Zoning of Crummer Bluffs Property. First Step Necessary for Crummer 150-Room Hotel.”

While express statements, such as “Vote For,” are not required for regulation, advertisements are considered political and therefore subject to the commission’s regulation if, taken as a whole, they unambiguously urge a particular result in an election. It is this question that is pending before the judge.

The city’s and state’s replies to the motion are due April 17. A hearing on the matter is set for April 23.

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

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