Santa Ana Council Committee Wants Stricter Rules on Legal Defense Funds

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The Santa Ana City Council’s ethics committee has asked city staff to draft new rules that would ban council members from voting on issues involving donors to a council member’s legal defense fund.

The request from the committee, comprised of council members Sal Tinajero and Angelica Amezcua, comes as Mayor Miguel Pulido has raised $44,750 to pay for legal bills associated with criminal and state investigations into his land swap with a city contractor.

Pulido’s swap earned him a $13,000 fine from the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which sanctioned him for six counts of violating the Political Reform Act. Among the violations were Pulido’s failure to disclose the swap on public filings and a conflict of interest for voting on a contract with the vendor who traded properties with him.

Pulido was able to pay the fine and other legal bills out of his legal defense fund, which received contributions from wealthy donors long connected to the mayor.

According to campaign finance records, some of the biggest donors to the fund were Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli, who donated $25,000, and the Glendale-based IT firm Inverselogic, Inc., which provided IT services to the city’s former streetcar consultant, a firm closely connected to Pulido called Cordoba Corp. Inverselogic donated $5,000 to the fund.

Under the city’s campaign finance ordinance, a council member is barred from voting on an issue affecting a contributor who gave more than $249 to a council member’s campaign. The committee’s request would extend that rule to legal defense funds.

“That’s the big issue, is the conflict there,” Tinajero said.

However, unlike the city’s campaign finance ordinance, which sets a $1,000 cap on campaign contributions from any individual or entity, council members would still be able to collect unlimited amounts of contributions for their legal defense funds.

The committee also asked City Attorney Sonia Carvalho to draft possible sanctions for violating the state’s open meetings law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.

In this case, Tinajero and Amezcua were more concerned about violating the narrow provision that allows certain subjects to be discussed behind closed doors. In the past, Pulido has been accused of leaking closed session discussions.

Carvalho said the most extreme sanction would be to force violators to turn in their City Hall key card. That sanction would be for multiple violations to show “you’ve gone way too far,” Carvalho said, and “we’re voting you off the island in a way.”

The new rules are expected to come back to the ethics committee at its regular meeting on Nov. 19.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • Paul Lucas

    The existence of a “Legal Defense Fund” is outrageous to begin with. But unlimited donations? Of which he can use to pay the fines he was levied over that land swap deal? Good God Man!! How is this even remotely legal?

    • Mike Tardif

      I hope that a legal defense fund is considered taxable income. Any regular Joe (or Paul) would have to pay legal bills from taxable income.

      • Paul Lucas

        Mike, I dont know you. we have never met. I don’t understand why you keep sniping at me from the sidelines with this jr high nonsense. Im asking you to stop harassing me.