Come this June, County voters will have the opportunity to amend the County Charter to create a non-partisan, non-political Ethics Commission to enforce these County ethics laws: the County Campaign Reform Ordinance (TINCUP); the Gift Ban Ordinance; the Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Ordinance; and the prohibition on revolving-door lobbying and misuse of County equipment provisions of the County Code of Ethics.
As Chief of Staff to then-Supervisor John Moorlach, I had the privilege of working with Shirley Grindle on an earlier draft of this measure. Now, as a law professor at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, I have had the privilege of working with Ms. Grindle, Chapman colleague Professor Fred Smoller, and others, with the significant assistance and support of the Board of Supervisors, to bring this forward.
Currently, there is no regularized enforcement of these ethics laws.
The District Attorney has shown no interest in enforcing TINCUP or monitoring campaign contributions on a regular basis and, given that any District Attorney is also subject to these ethics laws, he or she has an inherent conflict. The FPPC does not enforce local ordinances, and even if they did, they have 58 counties to monitor.
The Charter Amendment has the following features:
• It prohibits persons affiliated with elected officials, candidates, lobbyists, County public employee bargaining units, County employees, Department Heads and Managers, officials of partisan political committees, and anyone who provides services to candidates and elected officials from serving on the commission—banning some of these people for ten years—ensuring a non-politically influenced membership of the commission;
• The Commission and its Executive Director monitor compliance with the ethics laws, receives and investigates complaints, reviews County Conflict of Interest statements for accuracy, provides ethics training to elected officials, candidates, and staffs, and create a manual for compliance; and
• It creates a fair and streamlined process of a confidential investigation and administrative hearing, to protect candidates from unfair accusations of violations being used as political attacks, and a final appeal hearing that is public, along with remedial measures and penalties that include civilly enforceable fines and cease and desist orders.
No measure is perfect, since it was drafted by fallible human beings, but this is a great start at finally enforcing these ethics laws, and provides a basis for improving those laws, and their enforcement, as we move toward a more ethical future for Orange County government.
Professor Mario Mainero is a Chapman University Fowler School of Law professor and a former Chief of Staff to Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach