Campaign Finance Watchdog Angry Over Wording of Ethics Measure

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Campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle is harshly criticizing Orange County supervisors for approving what she says is grossly misleading language for a November ballot measure on the enforcement of campaign finance rules.

The ballot measure, Measure E, asks voters to give the the Board of Supervisors authority to seek a contractual relationship with the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for ongoing regulation of campaign finance laws in Orange County.

It is the result of widespread frustration over what many say is lax enforcement of local campaign finance laws by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. The thinking is that the FPPC would offer more consistent regulation.

What has angered Grindle is that in the ballot language the county refers to the FPPC as the “Ethics Commission.” This is galling to her because she and others — including the grand jury and the Orange County Employees Association — have long pushed for an independent local ethics commission to no avail.

“I just received my Sample Ballot and have been informed by the Registrar of Voters that the County Counsel prepared the statement which reads “Authorize Ethics Commission to Enforce Orange County Campaign Finance Rules,” Grindle wrote supervisors last week.

“Since when has the Fair Political Practices Commission been called an Ethics Commission? You should be ashamed of yourselves for resorting to such devious and misleading tactics.”

Grindle continued: “Are you calling the Fair Political Practices Commission an “Ethics Commission” because you know that is what the voters want to hear? Or are you admitting an Ethics Commission is the way to go?”

Supervisors reacted strongly to Grindle’s accusations. County Supervisor John Moorlach called her “an angry person,” while Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson characterized her attitude as dictatorial.

“The only thing Shirley accepts is Shirley’s way,” Nelson said. “When she ascends to the seat of local monarch she’ll get her way all the time. Until then she’ll have to suffer the inconvenience that sometimes people just honestly disagree.”

Meanwhile, OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino defended Grindle’s arguments.

“Measure E states that a commission which doesn’t even exist (California Ethics Commission) would perform the duties of a real ethics commission,” Berardino said. “This intentionally misleading statement on the ballot demonstrates the exact reason two Grand Juries have tried to get the Board to form a real ethics commission. Voters must reject Measure E.”

Moorlach notes that supervisors never voted to use that language but only authorized that the ballot measure be prepared.

Indeed, supervisors on July 15 voted to direct the Registrar of Voters to place the FPPC enforcement ordinance on the Nov. 4 ballot and also directed County Counsel to prepare the ballot language and impartial analysis of the ordinance.

Under the county’s rules, neither are required to come back to supervisors for approval once a measure is cleared for placement on the ballot.

And that’s the way it should be, said Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

Spitzer said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to have local politicians tinkering with ballot titles and designations.

County officials will not comment on whether any supervisors communicated with county counsel as the ballot language for the measure was being prepared.

However, there have been longstanding arguments throughout California because the state attorney general often comes up with ballot language, and many politicians do not like how the language often turns out.

As it turns out, it looks like the ballot vote will largely be ceremonial because OCEA spearheaded efforts in Sacramento to kill legislation that would have allowed the FPPC to handle such matters at the local level.

Spitzer said he would avoid an argument with Grindle and called her a friend but said he disagreed.

“I agree with her on the needs for an ethics commission. She believes that if this passes the pressure is off for an ethics commission. That’s where I respectfully disagree,” Spitzer said. “The November election will give us a good read on the public’s demand for a new oversight commission.”

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