Anaheim City Council members deadlocked on a campaign finance reform in an effort to lessen special interests’ influence on policy decisions, which has come under intense public scrutiny since revelations of an FBI corruption probe into City Hall.
After a majority of the council debated the issue for hours – over the course of two city council meetings this month – council members deadlocked 3-3 late Tuesday night over an ordinance that would’ve required a 72-hour reporting window for all campaign contributions of $250 or more, along with mandatory recusal periods.
The deadlock comes after residents have been continuously calling for council members to limit the influence special interest groups – the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, the LA Angels and Disney-funded political action committees – have on City Hall.
Many of those same interest groups heavily funded a majority of the city council members’ election campaigns.
Council members Steve Faessel, Jose Moreno and Avelino Valencia voted in favor of the ordinance.
Their colleagues Jose Diaz, Gloria Ma’ae and Trevor O’Neil voted against the reform.
Faessel rescheduled the reform proposal for another discussion at an unknown date.
The campaign finance reform, spearheaded by Moreno, would also create a 12-month blackout window on council members from voting on an item – like a contract or permit – that would benefit a campaign contributor.
“We’ve heard from a lot of different folks who are supportive of this effort — I guess as it was named out on the streets — as a way to clean up our election process and put more trust into it,” Moreno said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Its goal is to mitigate the undue influence of money in our decision making in the city.”
It also would bar council members from fundraising from people for six months who’ve had business voted on favorably, beginning with the date of the final council decision.
Moreno has been calling out the influence of Disneyland resort interests and trying to propose campaign finance reform in the city for years.
It wasn’t until former Mayor Harry Sidhu resigned in May after public disclosure of an FBI affidavit all but announcing an ongoing corruption probe in the city that Moreno was able to schedule a discussion and propose an ordinance on the issue.
FBI affidavits also allege that Sidhu tried to score at least $1 million in campaign contributions from the Angels while pushing through the now-dead Angel Stadium land sale and giving the ball team confidential information during negotiations.
Sidhu, through his defense attorney Paul Meyer, defended his actions Tuesday afternoon.
“We continue to expect the results of the federal investigation to show that Harry did not disclose any closed session or secret information. He never leaked anything in the hopes of a later political campaign contribution. He worked as a member of the City’s negotiating group to help reach a mutually beneficial agreement between Anaheim and the Angels. The Superior Court has ruled that the group did not violate the Brown Act,” reads the statement emailed to reporters.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Valencia said the proposed campaign finance ordinance would have prevented the Angel Stadium deal.
“One thing is certain, it has been stated from this dais, if something like this had been implemented during the early portion of Harry Sidhu’s mayoral service, then the Angels deal would not have manifested in the way it did,” he said.
Meanwhile, Diaz, who wasn’t at the last meeting earlier this month, argued the campaign finance reform proposal would’ve prevented him from running his campaign in 2020 by limiting his ability to fundraise.
“How else am I going to advertise to 65,000 residents in District 1 what I want to do? How else am I going to tell people I’m going to bring housing, I want to fix Beach Boulevard, I want to address poverty,” Diaz said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I got contributions for that.”
“If we enforce this today, we approve this today, all we’re going to do is prohibit people like me from running. The money coming to the campaign is still going to be coming … it’ll be coming from outside city interests.”
Diaz also said the city should wait for the FBI corruption probe to wrap up and an expected city-commissioned investigation to finish before his colleagues think about reforming campaign finance in the city.
Faessel defended Morneo’s campaign reform proposal – a rarity in Anaheim politics.
“If you look at what is proposed and you look how you financed your recent campaign, I think you’ll see your recent campaign can fall well within the limitations here,” Faessel responded to Diaz. “It’s not preventing you from accepting contributions from unions or anybody else for that matter. There are limitations of how we might be able to vote and there are new reporting requirements.”
Moreno echoed what some of Faessel said.
“It’s simply asking you to wait six months … before you can vote on that,” Moreno said.
He also recounted the recent revelations of the FBI corruption probe into city hall, saying such a campaign finance reform “protects us, insulates us” from the perception of suspect votes.
“The goal here is just to build trust in the decision making, to shield us from those contributors,” Moreno said.
Ma’ae, who voted against the campaign finance reform, didn’t give her thoughts on the issue Tuesday night. At the June 7 meeting, she said the ordinance would unfairly target certain groups.
O’Neil, who’s mayor pro tem and has been running the meetings since Sidhu resigned, reiterated his stance against such reforms – saying it’s a transparency issue and not a contribution influence issue.
“My point was made then that this is not as much about campaign finance and contribution limits and recusals as it is transparency. And I don’t think the way we’re addressing it with the motion on the floor is the best way to handle it. I think it could be best handled by tweaking reporting requirements on our lobbyist registry or on our contractors,” he said.
Meanwhile, every resident who spoke on the proposed campaign finance reforms voiced support for the ordinance.
“Five of you accepted money from the same criminal organizations that Harry did,” Jeanine Robbins said during public comment.
Diaz, Faessel, O’Neil and Valencia were all heavily supported by resort-industry interests in their respective city council campaigns.
Ma’ae, who was appointed, used to be part of the advisory committee for Disney’s political spending vehicle, Support Our Anaheim Resort.
Those same interests also spent money against Moreno in his election campaign and supported his opponents.
Resident Fred Sigala criticized Ma’ae’s June 7 comments about campaign finance reform, who said expecting the proposed ordinance to remove “all opportunity for pay for play is unrealistic.”
“Are you seriously implying that the solution to preventing attempted robberies like that which almost happened to Angel stadium is to do nothing?” Sigala said during Tuesday’s public comment period.
Resident Victoria Vidrio said council members and City Hall need to be cleaned up.
“We have to use Fabuloso here to clean up – gosh we need chlorine too, because Fabuloso won’t do it. You stink.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated there was a six-month recusal period barring council members from voting on a campaign contributor’s item. It’s a 12-month period. We regret the error.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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