Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michele Martinez broke the city law governing campaign contributions when she took $500 from Naranjo Landscape shortly after voting to approve a city contract with the company,  Shirley Grindle, Orange County campaign finance watchdog, said last week.

Santa Ana law limits campaign contributions from companies that have had business before council to no more than $250 during the three months after the vote.

Martinez’s Assembly campaign committee received the contribution Nov. 29, just 58 days after she voted to award Naranjo the $184,500 contract.

The donation was made to Martinez’s Assembly campaign committee, not to Martinez’s City Council campaign, but the city law prohibits such donations to “any campaign committee controlled by the council member,” Grindle said.

Grindle said she believes Martinez accepted the contribution by accident. Martinez is “one of the better council people,” she said.

Nonetheless, Grindle said, “it is my recommendation that she [Martinez] return the contribution she received, because I believe they were accepted in error.”

Voice of OC confirmed the contribution and the vote after an anonymous tip. Martinez did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment, and  interim City Attorney Joe Straka declined to comment on the matter.

Martinez recently made headlines on another campaign financing issue when a California Watch journalist overheard her talking on the phone about possible independent expenditures coming from the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

California Watch Senior Editor Bob Salladay was sitting near Martinez on a train headed to the Bay Area. He broadcast over Twitter that he heard Martinez say she was “working with Chairman Robert Smith from Pala. Yeah, they are going to come in real big with some IEs [independent campaign expenditures].”

It’s illegal for any candidate to coordinate independent expenditure campaigns, which are supposed to be controlled and funded without the candidate’s influence. Martinez said in a statement that Salladay had misrepresented her conversation.

This isn’t the first time Martinez has appeared to run afoul of the city’s law on campaign contributions.

Martinez received $2,000 from the development team for the Station District, a mixed-use residential development, within a month after voting on the project in 2010, according to the Orange County Register.  She also received $500 from the developers in the months before the vote.

Martinez returned the contributions.

Gridle says part of the problem is the city’s contribution limit, which she says makes it difficult for the candidate to track potentially illegal contributions. She says it should be scrapped for an across-the-board limit.


Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.