The Orange County Board of Supervisors appears ready today to renew its effort to have the state’s campaign finance watchdog monitor contributions in local elections.
The expected move comes amid widespread frustration over what many see as a lax approach by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas when it comes to prosecuting political corruption.
In the Nov. 4 election, voters approved a proposal (Measure E) to have the state Fair Political Practices Commission enforce the county’s stringent local campaign finance ordinance. Measure E, which as approved by an overwhelming 56.6 to 43.4 percent margin, asked whether they wanted to “Authorize Ethics Commission to Enforce County Campaign Finance Rules.”
But labor leaders and the county’s main campaign finance watchdog, Shirley Grindle, who wrote the campaign finance ordinance known as TINCUP, say the supervisors essentially tricked voters into thinking they were getting the equivalent of an ethics commission to regulate political corruption when they are not.
Both are publicly attacking supervisors’ FPPC proposal as a ploy to avoid enacting real accountability, and cite the county grand jury's specific call for a local ethics commission earlier this year.
“The Grand Jury has repeatedly provided detailed accounts of corruption in Orange County government and repeatedly called for an ethics commission here to clean it up. Voters agreed earlier this month when they thought they were voting on a measure to bring an 'ethics commission' here, as the language on the ballot stated,” said Jennifer Muir, Assistant General Manager for the Orange County Employees Association.
Yet Muir said the supervisors gamed the electorate.
“Unfortunately, the ballot was misleading and the FPPC is not an ethics commission. The Board of Supervisors intentionally misled the public because they don’t want an ethics commission here, and their pursuit of legislation to bring the FPPC to Orange County is just another step in this cover up. Just as we did last time, we will do all we can to make sure this cover up is not successful,” Muir said.
“Another sneaky maneuver on the part of this Board,” Grindle added.
OCEA effectively killed the legislation advocated by county supervisors earlier this year in Sacramento attempting to authorize the switch – which would have Orange County join San Bernardino as the main local clients for the FPPC.
Nonetheless, the success of Measure E has prompted Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson to reintroduce the idea of seeking legislation.
The proposal to renew the FPPC contract is within the county's legislative platform, which is up for approval.
“I’m trying to accept there is a desire for more,” Nelson said. “What you’re not going to get is some unelected body with the power of the DA.”
“The district attorney is the prosecutorial authority in this county.”
What Nelson does want to see is a move to put campaign finance regulation in the hands of the state. He’s perplexed that labor is against him on that front and characterized their opposition as a tantrum because they aren’t getting pay raises.
Nelson also says OCEA is overstating what the grand jury called for.
“It’s misleading to say the grand jury found corruption, they cited a bunch of evidence back from when I was in grammar school…they’re (OCEA) taking a lot of liberty with the grand jury report,” Nelson said.
“There were no examples in the grand jury’s report that were recent, other than (former Sheriff Mike) Carona, which isn’t that recent,” he added.
Nelson said criticism of the district attorney’s approach shouldn’t cloud what is a reasonable approach.
“I’m trying to listen to what the grand jury wants to accomplish,” Nelson said.
“The FPPC is not perfect. But I’m tired of people pointing out what they don’t do. Can we focus on getting something productive that is neutral, that has teeth?”