Campaign Finance Rule on Santa Ana City Council Agenda

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The Santa Ana City Council is scheduled to vote May 7 on striking down one of the strictest campaign finance laws in Orange County, apparently to help Councilwoman Michele Martinez in her race for the state Assembly.

The rule, which was passed in 1996, bars council members from taking contributions over $250 within three months after a council vote from anyone with a financial interest in the vote. It was most notably broken in recent years by Martinez in 2010, when she voted on the Station District residential development project.

The repeal would remove “a restriction not required under state law that unfairly affects Santa Ana Council candidates running for state or other elected office,” a city staff report reads. The rule prohibits contributions to any campaign committee controlled by the council member.

Martinez is running for the 69th Assembly District seat against labor leader Julio Perez and Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly.

Martinez had received $2,000 from entities connected to the Station District within a month after the vote to approve the project, according to The Orange County Register.

Martinez also broke the law when her Assembly campaign took $500 from Naranjo Landscape shortly after voting to approve a city contract with the company, Shirley Grindle, Orange County campaign finance watchdog, had said in February.

Grindle had recommended that Martinez return the contribution to Naranjo Landscape and said the councilwoman probably accidentally broke the law. It is not clear whether Martinez returned the money; she did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Grindle has called the law confusing and recommends that it be scrapped and replaced by an across-the-board campaign contribution limit. She said the law makes it difficult for council members to track potentially illegal contributions.

Others in the community want to keep the law in place.

And an email forwarded to members of a coalition of neighborhood groups known as the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development (SACReD) implores them to ask council members to keep the rule intact.

“The council member running for Assembly has violated it at least once during this campaign, and likely will be guilty of more if this restriction is not removed,” the email reads, referring to Martinez’s Naranjo contribution. “I think most residents would agree that there is no need to lessen the restrictions on ethical behavior and, in fact, I think most would like to see more accountability from our elected officials.”

SACReD has taken no position on the rule and has not endorsed the email. The source of the email has not been disclosed.

The group is negotiating with council members on drafting a “sunshine ordinance” aimed at making City Hall more transparent. Council members, however, have shown tepid support so far.

Council members could not be immediately reached for comment.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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