Yesterday, CD4 Council member David Ryu joined four other colleagues to call for a ban on campaign contributions from developers who have projects being considered by the city. In an effort to avoid the appearance of “pay-for-play,” David Ryu, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Mike Bonin, and Joe Buscaino urged the city’s Ethics committee to draft legislation that would ban contributions for developers seeking special consideration for real estate projects during and shortly after the review process.
Calling for “sweeping campaign finance reform,” Ryu and his colleagues introduced two motions that would:
- Ban contributions to City elected officials and candidates for City office from developers and their principals with development projects currently or recently before the City;
- Increase the matching fund rates from the current 2:1 match in primary elections and 4:1 match in general elections to 6:1 in both primary elections and general elections for all candidates who qualify for matching funds;
- Prepare possible options for the definition of a “developer” to ensure as wide a net as possible is cast, in addition to exploring whether contractors and subcontractors on development projects requiring discretionary council approval should be included in this ban;
- Require campaign committees to provide additional reporting on non-individual entity contributors, including a category that denotes contributions derived from developers and their principals;
- Require a signed affidavit that requires the contributor to positively affirm, under penalty of perjury, that the contributions are being made by the contributor, that the contributor is not being reimbursed, and that the contributor does not have any open applications for development projects before the city or any local or citywide planning commission, in addition to any other city ethics laws that should be included in the affidavit; and
- Requests a report on the costs and feasibility of increasing the size of enforcement staff at the Ethics Commission to increase the number of inspections and audits that can be carried out to reduce the incidences of campaign finance fraud and improve transparency.
The initiative comes after several LA Times investigations revealed how developers who made large donations to various political campaigns won approval for projects over objections from the Planning Commission and department staff. Today, the Times reported:
“In October, a Times investigation found that donors with direct and indirect ties to real estate developer Samuel Leung gave more than $600,000 to support L.A.-area politicians as his 352-unit Sea Breeze apartment project was being vetted at City Hall. Sea Breeze was approved over the objections of both city planners and Garcetti’s own appointees.
The Times also examined campaign contributions made by businessman Rick Caruso, the developer of a 20-story apartment project being considered near the Beverly Center. Caruso and his associates have provided more than $476,000 to L.A. politicians and their pet causes over the last five years.”
The effort also comes two months ahead of city-wide elections where both the mayor and half the City Council are up for re-election, and several Council Members are facing opponents who have already promised not to take funds from developers. Also on the March ballot is Measure S, also known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which calls for a two-year ban on any projects that require zone changes and would force the city to update its community plans.
“The best way to restore trust in government is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict,” said Council member David Ryu yesterday. “By introducing sweeping reforms, we will work to restore Angelenos’ faith in the City’s ability to fairly review and approve major development projects. We need a campaign finance system that limits the influence of big-pocketed developers, and instead empowers thousands of small donors to have their voices heard.”
Ryu, who refused contributions from developers during his campaign, met Monday evening with residents in a Hancock Park home, delivering the same message. Saying, “I work for you,” Ryu told the story of how he campaigned by going door-to door and earning over $10,000 unique contributions averaging $122 per donation.
At Monday’s meeting, Ryu encouraged residents to get involved in the process and help him make local government more responsive. He told the Buzz he is starting the year with what he hopes will be many coffees and home visits that he’s committed to holding throughout the district, to engage voters directly.
News reports about the campaign finance initiative were mostly optimistic, but others took a more cautious tone. “…don’t send cards of congratulations or break out the party hats just yet,” wrote LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, who pointed out there are lots of way to support city leaders without making direct contributions, including supporting their projects and independent expenditure committees. In his column today, Lopez calls for more transparency about contributions,which City Controller Ron Galperin says can and should be done if money were allocated in the city budget. Lopez’s column went on to say:
“In the last line of their motion for a ban on developer donations Tuesday, council members did ask for the Ethics Commission to improve transparency and report on the cost of “an accessible and easy-to-navigate website.
“If I could get some budget money to work on this with Ethics, I would love to do so,” said Galperin, adding that it wouldn’t cost a fortune for a serious upgrade.
I’ve got an idea.
Developers and other high rollers have donated millions to the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, which is always looking for a good cause.
Could there be a better one than cleaning up City Hall?”