The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to renew a legislative push to have the state Fair Political Practices Commission oversee local campaign finance.
The 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Janet Nguyen abstaining, comes after county voters overwhelmingly endorsed Measure E, which authorized the FPPC to serve as the county's de-facto political ethics commission.
The measure was in response to widespread concern over what many see as a lack of effective local monitoring by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
However, the new monitoring regime requires approval by the state Legislature, which the supervisors could not get earlier in the year due to opposition from the Orange County Employees Association.
Labor leaders, along with local campaign watchdog Shirley Grindle, have pushed for the establishment of an independent local ethics commission, something that the county grand jury has also recommended.
OCEA and Grindle argue that the FPPC option would be less effective and harshly criticized the supervisors for Measure E's ballot language, which they said misled voters into thinking they were getting a true ethics commission when they weren't.
Nguyen explained her abstention from Tuesday's vote by saying the legislature had already made it clear there was no stomach for the proposal so she saw no need to press the issue again.
Yet Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson noted that given the results of the county’s ballot measure earlier this month, “to not accept that, is to flip the proverbial bird to the voters.”
Nelson said despite the critics assertions, supervisors are ready to talk ethics. Maybe not an ethics commission but a discussion about shortcomings and solutions.
“This is part of a bigger discussion, and there’s certainly a reason to have that discussion,” Nelson said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Currently, only the County of San Bernardino has been allowed to contract with the FPPC.
The county legislative advocacy plan approved Tuesday by supervisors would seek to allow any county to contract with the FPPC.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer thought that should be changed to only include Orange County with the goal that by making it slimmer in scope, it might avoid broader legislative debate.
Spitzer also sough to amend the legislative platform to note that the county would continue a discussion about an ethics commission. However, Supervisor Pat Bates asked that the word commission be left out as she felt that could raise issues about the panel’s independence.
Spitzer agreed to accept her changes but said he expects a wide-ranging discussion this coming year, with him expected to take over as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
“We’ve been really clear, the conversation’s not completed,” Spitzer said.