Local elected officials throughout the Golden State will soon have a cooling off period on voting for items that benefit campaign donors.
That means Orange County’s Board of Supervisors, city councils, school boards and all other local elected officials throughout the county will soon be barred from voting on items benefitting contributors who donated more than $250 within the past 12 months.
“It could very well be the most significant political reform in the last 50 years. It’s under the radar, most people haven’t been paying attention to it but it’s a very significant change,” state Sen. Steven Glazer, one of the bill’s authors, said in a Thursday phone interview.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB1439 on Thursday, which also mandates a 12-month blackout period for receiving campaign donations if an elected official voted on an item benefitting the would-be donor.
It applies to all local elected bodies across California and is expected to take effect Jan. 1.
“This legislation would seriously curtail the current, legal pay to play activity,” he said.
Locally, an FBI corruption investigation into Anaheim City Hall that touches on Disneyland resort area interests has put a renewed focus on campaign finance, spurring calls of campaign finance reform.
Federal agents allege former Mayor Harry Sidhu tried to ram through the now-dead Angel Stadium land sale for a $1 million campaign contribution from the ball club. Team executives directly contributed to his 2018 mayoral campaign.
[Read: Anaheim Council Members Head Into Election While Investigating Campaign Contributions]
Sidhu has not been publicly charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
In a pair of sworn affidavits, FBI agents allege Disneyland resort area interests heavily influenced policy making at Anaheim City hall
Read the FBI affidavits here and here.
One of Sidhu’s former allies on the dais, Councilman Trevor O’Neil, returned campaign donations from Angels executives shortly after news of the corruption probe surfaced in May.
Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno tried to spearhead a similar campaign finance reform initiative in July, but failed to gain enough support from his colleagues. The proposal also would’ve applied to political action committee spending.
[Read: No Campaign Finance Reform for Anaheim]
The new state bill doesn’t apply to competitively bid contracts, or labor and employment contracts, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Glazer said the campaign finance reform bill has been “broadly supported by Republicans and Democrats.”
“I have not experienced or seen any above the radar opposition,” he added.
There was no listed opposition in the Senate’s bill analysis.
Leading up to the Angel Stadium’s initial sale approval in December 2019 and after, Angels executives donated to the council majority’s campaigns.
The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce heavily supported Sidhu’s campaign through independent expenditures in the 2018 election. Shortly after becoming Mayor, Sidhu spearheaded a $425,000 no-bid contract for the chamber to advertise businesses throughout the city.
[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]
The chamber also created Anaheim First, a resident advisory committee that was supposed to make neighborhood spending recommendations to the city council. Sidhu helped steer a $250,000 no-bid contract to the chamber’s group in 2019 to study city issues.
“Beyond counter-intuition, the problem of special interests seeking to influence local decision-making is longstanding, well documented, and real,” reads a Senate analysis of the bill.
[Read: Private Anaheim Spending Advisory Group Criticized for Ties to Business and Lack of Transparency]
One of Anaheim First’s key members – Gloria Ma’ae – was appointed to the city council last year to fill a vacancy left by Jordan Brandman.
Ma’ae also sat on an advisory committee for Disney’s chief campaign spending vehicle, Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee.
After news of the FBI corruption probe hit, Anaheim officials said they’ve cut ties with the Chamber of Commerce and Anaheim Frist.
“What you’re seeing in your region is no different in other places in the state. There’s been criminal acts and other pay to play schemes that have passed the current legal test,” Glazer said.
Glazer’s bill applies to direct campaign donations of greater than $250.
“An officer of an agency shall not make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use the officer’s official position to influence the decision in a proceeding involving a license, permit, or other entitlement for use pending before the agency if the officer has willfully or knowingly received a contribution in an amount of more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) within the preceding 12 months from a party or a party’s agent,” reads the bill.
Violations of the newly signed law are punishable by misdemeanor.
Elected officials could also return the campaign donations within 14 days of finding out about the contribution, which would allow them to vote on the item
The bill is largely modeled off the state’s Levine Act, which applies to appointed officials – like local water board members.
“I never understood why there should be such a difference between an appointed official and an elected official when we’re trying to instill public confidence in any governmental institution,” Glazer said.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Since you've made it this far,
You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.
Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.