City Council To Debate Campaign Finance Ordinance It Rejected 3 Weeks Ago

This Tuesday, the Anaheim City Council will vote on a version of the campaign finance ordinance that it rejected less than three weeks ago.

At it’s June 21 meeting, the Anaheim City Council took up Councilman Jose F. Moreno’s proposal to impose restrictions on the ability of the business community to participate in city council campaigns. Moreno’s proposal exempts labor unions from those restrictions.

The proposed ordinance failed on a 3-3 vote (four affirmative votes are necessary to adopt an ordinance). Moreno’s proposal drew the support of Councilmembers Avelino Valencia and Steve Faessel, and was opposed by Mayor Pro Tem Trevor O’Neil and Councilmembers Jose Diaz and Gloria Ma’ae. Their opposition was unequivocal.

Nonetheless, Faessel asked to bring it back for the July 12 council meeting, with the support of Moreno and Valencia.

Judging from the June 21 council meeting, there’s no reason to believe the outcome will be any different. Yet for some reason, Faessel, Moreno and Valencia want to waste the public’s and their colleagues’ time and go through the exercise all over again – bringing to mind the oft-quoted definition of insanity.

You can read more about Moreno’s campaign finance “reform” here, here and here. It’s not about reform: it’s about political power.

This proposal is somewhat different from the one the council considered three weeks ago. In a concession to constitutional reality, the provision pertaining to independent expenditures has been dropped. Moreno had sought to conflict out councilmembers if an independent expenditure committee spent more than $250 advocating for their election.

Since candidates have no control over what independent expenditure committees do, the constitutionaltiy of this section was at best questionable – and ripe for abuse.

Also nixed is a provision allowing for “private right of action” by private citizens to enforce the ordinance – another section that would have been ripe for abuse as gadflies and campaign stalking horses used it to harass opponents.

Hypocrisy And Double Standards

Moreno contends he’s trying to get “money out of politics.” The fifty-year history of campaign finance reform in this country is one of failure, and push-back by the U.S. Supreme Court against unconstitutional restrictions on political speech.

Moreno admitted the futility of campaign finance restrictions at the most recent meeting of the Anaheim Democrats:

Yet true to progressive form, he is undeterred by reality.

As has been noted, Moreno had no issues with “money in politics” when it was out-of-town special interest money flooding in to fund his districting initiative in 2014.

Moreno was member of the Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education prior to his election to city council, and the Anaheim Union High School District is stacked with his political allies. He routinely supports every local school bond placed on the ballot.

The campaign finance disclosures for those school bonds read like vendor list for the AESD and AUHSD.   Their school boards place these bonds on the ballot and then hit upon district contractors to donate to the bond measure campaign. Talk about pay-to-play – not that you’ve ever heard Moreno or his cronies like Al Jabbar bemoan “money in politics” when it comes to bond campaigns (or school unions funding school board candidates who then vote on their contracts.

Moreno’s campaign finance proposal allows him to seem like a reformer without actually being one. What he is really trying to do is make it difficult for businesses to advocate for themselves, and to support candidates of their choosing.

For example, Moreno wants to requires councilmembers to recuse themselves from voting if an applicant has donated more than $250 to their campaign within the past 12 months (no one has explained why a $251 contribution is corrupting while $250 is not).

It’s a superficially appealing idea: ensure councilmembers have no penurious motives when voting on a contract or a development project.

But there’s more to it.

Under Moreno’s proposal, councilmembers who receive a contribution of $251 or more from anyone who “files an application for, or is the subject of, a proceeding involving a license, permit, or other entitlement for use” cannot vote on that license, permit or “other entitlement use” (such as a residential development or hotel project.”

When developers bring projects to Anaheim, they routinely meet with councilmembers early in the process to explain their projects and seek support for them. Imagine you’re the property owner and Councilman Moreno (or a like-minded progressive in the future) asks you to set-aside 15% of your units for low-income housing, or that your hotel project includes a “living wage” requirement and compulsory unionization as conditions of approval.

Imagine you respectfully decline those requests, and Moreno (or a like-minded future councilmember) subsequently mobilizes activists and political allies to organize opposition to your project.

Under Moreno’s proposal, that applicant is stripped of their ability to fight back. They cannot engage meaningfully in advocating for themselves by supporting pro-development candidates, because that would disqualify those candidates from voting on their project.

Meanwhile, the applicant’s opponents are not constrained by any such restrictions in their efforts to influence the city council – despite having their own financial stake in the matter.

One of Moreno’s biggest donors, UNITE-HERE Local 11, would love to elect a council majority that would impose via ordinance what they have failed to obtain through their bargaining and organizing efforts. Imposing “labor peace agreements” on hotel projects would directly impact UNITE-HERE’s financial bottom line by forcing employees to become dues-paying union members.

Yet, under Moreno’s campaign finance proposal, councilmembers took contributions from UNITE-HERE (or a union in a similar entitlement application situation) would not be required to recuse themselves.

Funny how Moreno’s proposal handicaps “special interests” he dislikes while exempting those he likes.

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