Notwithstanding the absence of any formal opposition to the passage of Measure A, which will create an independent, non-partisan, and non-political Commission to enforce Orange County’s campaign finance, gift ban, lobbyist registration, and ethics ordinances, a few political consultants, editorialists, and commentators have opposed Measure A, largely on two grounds: (1) there is still a potential for political control of the Commission because the appointments are made by County Supervisors; and (2) there is no need for another government agency.
Neither objection is well-taken.
The first objection assumes that anyone appointed to the Commission will advance the interests of the Supervisor who appointed them. But the history of the numerous Ethics Commissions in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and San Diego shows that this is not the case: other Ethics Commissions that have been operating for years take great pride in being independent of those who appointed them and in doing their job.
Nothing suggests Orange County would be any different.
First, even if one Commissioner were overly loyal to their appointing supervisors, the other commissioners would not be loyal to that one supervisor or any of the other elected officials who are subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction. More importantly, unlike even all the other Ethics Commissions, supervisors here are limited in who they can appoint: no politicians, no employees of politicians, or lobbyists, or political advisers, or public employee unions, or anyone else whose employment is in the political or government services sector or with or for the political class.
Finally, prior to the commission public hearing, there is a confidential hearing before an independent administrative hearing officer who is NOT appointed by a politician but will come from a pool similar to those who serve as hearing officers for the Assessment Appeals Board. These limitations go a long way toward leaving largely true public-spirited citizens as the pool from which the Commission members and hearing officers will be drawn, helping to insure that this Commission and those who render decisions will largely avoid political influence. So long as human beings administer and enforce laws, there will always be imperfect administration and enforcement, but perfection cannot become the enemy of the good. The only result then is paralysis and inaction—in this case, the status quo, which is grossly inadequate.
And that is the problem with the second objection: that this is just another government agency that we do not need.
But if not an ethics commission, who else?
Certainly not the District Attorney.
The current District Attorney is uninterested in enforcing ethics laws, unless it politically suits him. While casting a blind eye toward the crimes of former Sheriff Carona, the gross and sickening misconduct of Judge Steiner with female students (whom this District Attorney excuses and dishearteningly endorses for re-election over one of his own accomplished assistant D.A.’s), and rampant misuse of jail informants in a cavalcade of Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause violations, this District Attorney calls a press conference to berate his political rival, a County Supervisor, for careless wording in a robocall. This illustrates that any elected District Attorney cannot enforce the same ethics laws to which he or she is subject because of the inevitable temptation toward politicization of that office, and therefore why we need an independent Ethics Commission. Yet this is the utterly inadequate status quo with which the opponents of Measure A are satisfied, and to which they would relegate the citizens of this County.
For they have no solution. They have no constructive suggestions for improvement. It is easy to criticize, but hard to effect change. From the day we first introduced our proposal for the Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission, we solicited comments and suggestions, but none of those currently criticizing this proposal offered any. None offered their time. None offered their expertise. None offered their help. And today, none offer a solution.
Therefore, the voters of Orange County have a choice on June 7: a choice between the inadequate status quo of unenforced Ethics laws and a proven model to enforce those laws; a choice between a politicized and political grandstanding District Attorney and a Commission and its Executive Director, quietly and professionally doing their job; and a choice between the sordid and often corrupt political past and status quo in Orange County, and reducing the influence of the political class over the enforcement of ethics laws. That choice is clear: vote YES on Measure A.
Shirley Grindle as a citizen wrote Orange County's campaign finance law back in 1978 and has been working to enforce it ever since. Chapman University Law Professor Mario Mainero - a former chief of staff to Supervisor John Moorlac - helped co-write Measure A.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
For an opposing view on Measure A, check out Deborah Pauly's Op-ed raising questions about the initiative.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org