As I was leaving a meeting of neighborhood councils Saturday, a Westside activist came up to me with an idea: Why not forbid Los Angeles City Council members from voting on projects when they have taken a contribution from the developer.
On the surface, the idea made sense, particularly from her. The Westside is being hammered with new buildings and traffic is so bad that even the NIMBYs who have blocked rapid transit there are changing their minds. Her proposal might take development votes out of the political market place. But I wasn't particularly enthusiastic and she looked a bit disappointed.
For one thing, such ban would be too hard to enforce. Suppose the contributor is really a big developer. Would the ban affect share holders and all employes? How would a candidate know that a contribution was from a large stockholder in the Jumbo Developent Corp? How would the contributors know they were doing something illegal by giving to the candidate unless they were obsessive followers of City Hall events, or had an expert campaign attorney in attendance at all check signings? And how would the Ethics Commission staff, already struggling to enforce existing laws, find the time or personnel to undertake this new sleuthing job?
Full public financing of city campaigns is the best solution. Then we wouldn't have to worry about the contributor/vote issue.
Public financing was discussed Saturday while I was at the meeting of the Citywide Alliance of Neighborhood Councils at Los Angeles City College. The representatives of several neighborhood councils were supportive. The councils will have a big role in shaping the final version of the public financing proposal we approved at the Ethics Commission last Tuesday. The City Council is to send the proposal to the neighborhood councils for discussion and for suggestions on how to improve it. That would put full public financing in good hands.