Ethics Committee Will Review Santa Ana’s Campaign Finance Law

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Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez decided Monday not to urge her colleagues to repeal a strict campaign finance law, asking instead that the City Council’s ethics committee take up the matter.

A staff report said 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.” The rule prohibits contributions to any campaign committee controlled by the council member.

Martinez, who is running for the 69th Assembly District seat, acknowledged that she had brought forward reconsideration of the rule.

But she ultimately decided that a more comprehensive review of campaign finance would be best, so she asked that the ethics committee review the rule. Councilman Sal Tinajero has scheduled a meeting of the committee for June 7 to review a sunshine ordinance proposed by a neighborhood coalition to bring greater transparency to City Hall.

“If we’re going to do something right, let’s do it right as a whole,” Martinez said.

The rule was passed in 1996. It bars council members from accepting contributions of more than $250 from anyone with a financial interest in a council vote. The prohibition extends to three months after the vote.

It was most notably broken in recent years by Martinez in 2010 after she voted on the Station District residential development project.

Tinajero and Councilman David Benavides also found themselves in hot water over the Station District vote.

Benavides accepted a $500 contribution from entities connected to the Station District soon after the vote. It was, however, significantly less than the $2,000 Martinez received.

Tinajero broke a different rule.

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

Martinez said at Monday night’s council meeting that she had returned every dollar in question. “I comply with the law,” she said.

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.

Charles Hart, a former mayoral candidate, told the council during public comments that he didn’t accept the reasoning offered to dismantle the rule.

“What the law does do is make it more difficult to trade votes for cash,” Hart said.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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