Curry: Time for Campaign Finance Reform in Newport Beach

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Newport Beach City Hall.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), has found probable cause to levy forty-four counts of charges against political operative Dave Ellis, the Ellis run front groups “Residents for Reform” and the “Neighborhood Preservation Coalition” (NPC), and the four council members elected in 2014 as part of “Team Newport.”  This is a stunning development that confirmed Residents for Reform and the NPC were operated by Ellis and were funded by payments from major developers, litigants against the city of Newport Beach, and one of the city’s largest private dock owners.  These payments far exceeded the city campaign contribution limits and were not disclosed in a timely manner.

Records show that these funds were used to launch scurrilous attacks against then mayor Rush Hill and to supplement the campaigns of the four council members.

It was a sad chapter in the history of our city.  In 2016, I proposed political reforms to prevent a repeat of this special interest buying of the city council.  Unfortunately, the council at the time refused to move forward with the reforms necessary to protect the integrity of our elections and to ensure full compliance with our existing political contribution laws.  With these forty four counts of wrongdoing, it is time to renew our call for political reform.

First, we must close the “slate mail committee” loophole that allows big money donors to evade the campaign contribution limits.  We should ensure that donations to a slate mail committee count as part of the $1,100 contribution limit.

Second, we must ensure that the campaign contribution limit in our municipal code is fully enforceable. The city attorney has taken the position he lacks authority to enforce it and the city council has refused to appoint a special counsel when violations were reported in 2014, 2016 and again in 2018.  We must demand either the automatic appointment of a special counsel or automatic referral to the District Attorney.

Third, we must require paid lobbyists register with the city so we know who is being paid to influence council decisions.  This is done at the Federal, state and county level, and cities around us such has Irvine have had this requirement for some time.

Finally we must restrict fundraising to the year of the election and the immediate six months following an election.  Council members should not be asking for money when critical decisions are before the council.  Now is the time for reform.

Keith Curry is a former Newport Beach Mayor.

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