Election laws discussed

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An ad-hoc committee on election laws suggests no limits on campaign contributions.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

The two men whose conflict over an election financial issue led to a courtroom battle were no-shows at last Wednesday’s city meeting on City Council election laws.

Malibu resident Ozzie Silna, who was unsuccessfully sued in 2004 by Wade Major, also a Malibu resident, in an attempt to limit the amount of money he could contribute to the campaign, said he did not attend because the aftermath of the issue remains in litigation. Major could not be reached for comment on his absence.

An ad-hoc committee consisting of Councilmember Jeff Jennings and Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley led the meeting. The committee was created based on an idea by political activist Lloyd Ahern. Aside from City Attorney Christi Hogin, Ahern and three of his political allies were the only people who attended the meeting. Ahern admitted in a phone interview this week that the lack of an opposition meant “we were basically talking to ourselves.”

Ahern said he had asked Silna to attend the meeting because he was interested in getting different viewpoints. In the 2004 election, Silna spent nearly $28,000 in support of the campaigns for John Mazza, Walt Keller and Jay Liebig. Ahern favored Jennings, Kearsley and Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich. Silna said in an interview this week that he did not attend the meeting because he did not believe he had “anything to add to the agenda of the people involved.”

“There is ongoing litigation surrounding this matter,” Silna said. “It would not be appropriate for me to attend.”

When asked to comment on what Ahern had said at the meeting, Silna responded, “I have no comment about the agenda of Lloyd Ahern.”

A major item discussed at the meeting was whether to raise the $100 limit on individual contributions to a candidate’s campaign. Many have called this threshold unfair because a committee not directly associated with a candidate’s campaign can spend an unlimited amount of money in support of that candidate. Planning Commissioner Les Moss recommended individual contributions should also have no limit.

“That is the only way for Malibu to have even the slightest chance for a level playing field in future elections,” Moss said.

The $100 spending limit led to controversy during the 2004 campaign when Ahern ally Major alleged that Silna was an agent of two of the candidates’ campaigns, and therefore was limited to the $100 threshold. Silna said he was not an agent of their campaigns and was therefore not limited in how much he could spend. Major unsuccessfully attempted during the campaign to get a temporary restraining order to limit Silna’s spending to the $100 threshold. Silna later sued Major for attorney fees from the case. That was rejected in the Los Angeles Superior Court and Silna filed an appeal. The case is expected to go before the Court of Appeal later this year.

Jennings said he favored raising the threshold for individual contributions, but not necessarily to an unlimited amount. He said keeping it at $100 was also unfair to non-incumbents because they do not necessarily have a base for raising money, and are limited to a $100-per-person restriction with fewer people than incumbents as sources for the money.

Another major issue discussed at the meeting was how to deal with campaign lies and deceit. In 2004, the city hired an ethics consultant, Xandra Kayden, to oversee the campaign. She, with the help of a commission, accepted complaints about ethical violations in campaign literature and newspaper ads. She then wrote opinions about whether the candidates had committed ethical violation, but the candidates were not penalized regardless of her decision. Activist David Kagon said people who are found to have lied in an advertisement should be fined $10,000. He said the fines should increase for additional violations.

“[This will] enable the people of this city to receive information that has some basis in fact and is not the high-flow twists and turns that money can buy,” Kagon said.

Jennings said he believed doing that would raise some free speech issues. However, he said he supported the idea of having an ethics commission again in 2006. Others in attendance said they favored the idea too.

In a telephone interview this week, 2004 council candidate Mazza said it would be a bad idea to hire an ethics consultant again or have a commission deciding on whether candidates’ campaigns were ethical.

“The last one [Kayden] they hired was biased in their [incumbents] favor and caused lawsuits,” Mazza said.

Mazza said he did not attend the meeting because he had guests at his home. He said he plans to go to the next ad-hoc meeting on July 13.