Residents propose changes to city election laws

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An ad-hoc committee is supposed to come with a formal proposal for the City Council next month. City Attorney Christi Hogin says the Santa Monica League of Women Voters should serve as an ethics consultant for the 2006 City Council election.

By Tiffany Linder/ Special to The Malibu Times

The City Council Elections Ad-Hoc Committee continued discussions last Wednesday on possible changes to the city election laws. The committee heard comments from the public, but Councilmember Jeff Jennings, the only member of the two-person committee who attended the meeting, remained mostly quiet. The committee will meet again next month, at which time it is expected to come up with a proposal for the full City Council to vote on.

The hot topic at the meeting was whether to raise the $100 threshold on independent campaign contributions. The current law allows candidates to collect no more than $100 from each contributor. Malibu resident Wade Major said there should be a limit on contributions, but suggested there might be a more flexible price range that the council could establish to make it fair for new candidates, who he said don’t receive as much support as incumbents. Since new candidates will have fewer contributors to their campaigns, Major said, the only way they will be able to raise a competitive amount of money is if the contribution threshold is raised.

Mike Osborne, who served as Jennings’ campaign consultant in the 2004 election, suggested the $100 threshold should be raised to $1,000. Planning Commission Chair Les Moss said there should be no limit. Moss said that would be the only way to make the campaign entirely fair because current election law allows a committee not directly associated with a candidate’s campaign to spend an unlimited amount of money in support of that candidate.

Another controversial item discussed at the meeting was whether the city should hire an ethics consultant for the 2006 campaign. In 2004, the city hired Xandra Kayden to oversee the campaign. With the help of a commission, Kayden accepted complaints about ethical violations in campaign literature and newspaper ads. 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.

“If I run [in the 2006 election], I would totally ignore an ethics committee unless it was a much larger organization that couldn’t be controlled by anybody,” said John Mazza, who ran unsuccessfully in 2004.

City Attorney Christi Hogin suggested that the Santa Monica League of Women Voters would be a good organization to act as an ethics committee. The League states on its Web site that it is a “nonpartisan political organization encouraging the informed and active participation of citizens in government.” The site further states that the League “presents unbiased nonpartisan information about elections, the voting process and issues.” Hogin said that to bring in a distanced, unbiased committee could prove beneficial and fair for all running candidates.

Jennings did not say at the meeting what he planned to propose to the City Council. In a telephone interview later in the week, he said, “[I haven’t] come to a firm decision yet [because I’m] waiting to hear the rest of the opinions of the future candidates”

The other committee member, Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley, did not attend the meeting because he was in Sacramento. He said in a phone interview that the City Council should be careful not to over-regulate with any new election laws it might approve.

“Any decisions we make are not going to be perfect, but hopefully [they] will better smooth out the campaign process,” Kearsley said.

The committee will meet again on Aug. 3. At that time, it is expected to come up with a formal proposal for the City Council, which it would vote on in the fall.