Pay-to-Play Returns: Santa Ana Council May Repeal Campaign Finance Ordinance

SANTA ANA, CA — On Monday, May 7th the Santa Ana City Council is set to consider the repeal of a city ordinance that prohibits them from soliciting or receiving campaign bucks, or loans of more than $250 for three months following their vote. The current law, Section 425,  is in addition to the current California law prohibiting them from voting on projects benefiting campaign contributors for twelve months following a contribution.

They’re considering changing the rules so they can collect campaign cash after their votes without restriction.

According to the staff report for Agenda Item # 50, “by approving the proposed ordinance the City of Santa Ana is removing a restriction, not required under state law that unfairly affects Santa Ana Council candidates running for state or other elected office.” Currently the only member of the City Council seeking state or other elected office is Michele Martinez, who is running for State Assembly.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, Santa Ana (Photo: Lou Delgado)

Pay to Play

The staff report neglects to mention that by approving this ordinance they make legal, the actions of Michel Martinez from two years ago, when she took $2,000 from the architect, developers, and developers agents after her vote on the $40 million Station District project.

Two years ago Council member Michele Martinez got caught violating both the state and local laws. As I reported in my September 2010 story More ‘Pay to Play’ in Santa Ana – Michele Martinez in hot water over Station District vote:

On June 7, 2010, Councilwoman Michele Martinez made the motion that paved the way for the continuation of the City’s stalled Station District Redevelopment Project. Mayor Pulido, Council members Alvarez and Sarmiento abstained from participating in discussions about, and voting on, the matter due to conflicts. In order for the project to move forward, all four remaining members of the Council had to vote in favor of moving the project forward. The resolution passed on a 4-0 vote.

Michele Martinez cast the 4th and needed yes vote to give roughly $40 million in land and redevelopment $$$ to Related California/Griffin Realty Corporation as the master developer for the Station District. According to her campaign finance report for the period ending June 30, 2010, she received a $500 campaign contribution from Griffin Realty Corporation on April 2, 2010.

On June 15, 2010, Martinez reports a $500 contribution from William Witte, the President of Related California. On June 25th, Martinez reports a second $500 contribution from Griffin Realty. On June 30th, Martinez reported a second $500 contribution from William Witte.  In total Martinez accepted $2,000 in campaign contributions from the developers running the Station District Redevelopment Project. $1,500 of those contributions came within 30 days of her illegal vote to move the project forward.

The Orange County Register reported that “Councilman David Benavides also received $500 in the month after the vote from a company called Empire Building. Business records show it is affiliated with – and managed under – Voit.”

The repeal of the current ordinance makes all of the Station District scandal, none of which involved contributions to campaigns for state or other elected office, legal.

Santa Ana’s History of Corruption

The ordinance in question was passed in 1996, two years before former Councilman Ted Moreno was arrested in an FBI sting for corruption in a vote selling scheme. Coincidentally, Moreno was using his position to raise money to help out his allies in an attempt to take over control of the City Council so that he could stop the development of Santa Ana’s now vibrant Artists Village. Moreno, was obsessed with preventing the project which he said “he was afraid that Santa Ana’s multimillion-dollar effort to convert portions of its struggling downtown into an arts district was attracting gays and lesbians–a trend he found troubling.”

Freedom of Speech

Some people contend that the current law is really useless because the previous City Attorney determined that it was not possible to enforce it because it was too vague and infringed on “freedom of speech.” If that is the case, then a stronger ordinance is required, not removing it all together.

Success Fees

Members of the Santa Ana City Council do not sit in their positions as a stepping stone to higher office as the staff report suggests. Their role is to serve the best interests of their constituents, not to collect “Success Fees” for their votes.

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  12 comments for “Pay-to-Play Returns: Santa Ana Council May Repeal Campaign Finance Ordinance

  1. Santa Ana Resident
    May 4, 2012 at 10:17 am

    It’s absolutely ridiculous that the Santa Ana city council would even consider lessening the restriction and protection of the campaign finance ordinance at a time when most people are clamoring for even more accountability from elected officials.

    This particular council has had more issues with this type of pay-to-play politics than any previous council has had, and yet their go to move at this point is that when they can’t uphold a high standard, they lower the bar.

    Hopefully the council members that aren’t currently running for office will exercise some good judgement and not support this item on Monday’s agenda, and restore a little of the residents’ faith in the high ethical standard to which most people believe an elected official should be held.

  2. Art P
    May 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    how dare you suggest Michele is corrupt. this city council is the change we need. Sean Mill and I sit in the catbird seat and call anyone who opposes us racists. And you don’t live in our city. How dare you

  3. cook
    May 5, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Interesting.

    Does this mean, if repealed, that challengers could raise any amount of money and not be restricted to the current 250 limit?

    • May 5, 2012 at 1:17 am

      Yes you are correct Cook. If the current ordinance is repealed, a Council member could raise unlimited funds from a donor immediately following voting to benefit that donor. They would only be prohibited from voting on matters affecting that donor for twelve months after receiving a contribution from that donor.

      Wimpy from Popeye

      As a future developer or contractor named Wimpy might say: “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

  4. Al Simmons
    May 5, 2012 at 10:01 am

    The whole thing is just sleazy.
    It says it “unfairly” affects Santa Ana Council candidates running for state or other elected office.
    That’s ridiculous! It does happen to affect those council members who disregard the commitment they made when elected, and try to run for another office instead of serving the full 4 years they obligated themselves to when elected, but that certainly doesn’t make it unfair.
    The existing ordinance is a necessary protection for the constituents. Otherwise, a council member could open a new campaign fund the day after being elected and just start raking in gifts, campaign contributions, and other money from developers and special interests in the city. They would then be free to vote on city council agenda items from those they received all that income from. All they would have to do is make sure they are funneling the money into another office account instead of a city council campaign account. It’s a pretty nice scam.
    Instead of changing the rules and lowering the ethical bar here, how about the council members make a commitment tho the public to make sure the playing field is level by simply not accepting ANY money or gifts from people with business before the city council?
    Otherwise it could easily be proved that this city council places a higher priority on making sure it has access to developer and special interest cash than in doing the public’s business in an ethical, honest, and equal manner.
    As much as the city council says Santa Ana is nothing like the city of Bell, removing ethical standards like this campaign finance ordinance makes Santa Ana exactly like Bell.

  5. Marcus Wilson
    May 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Well that’s ringing the “Bell” again. Is anybody listening?

  6. May 6, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Good question. We know the council probably isn’t listening. They seem to be tone deaf.

  7. Jeff Dickman
    May 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Good article Chris, thank you,

    Also the Councilwoman is not going to support the Sunshine Ordinance, which is to be given its first forum tomorrow night at Council. The reason the Councilwoman will not support additional transparency in Santa Ana government is that will cost too much.

    Instead of maintaining a high standard for Council ethics regarding political donations, the Council seems poised to remove the limit for pundraising. All over Michele’s desire to run for the 69 AD.

    Come’on

  8. Sergio
    May 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

    The city council members are justifying this action by saying that the ordinance attempts to limit their ability to run for other offices. That’s a very flawed perspective. This ordinance, on its face, does not prevent anyone from running for any office they want.
    - First of all, the council members commit to the community that they will serve for 4 years when they are elected. If they abandon that commitment and attempt to use the council position to leapfrog to another office, that’s pretty sleazy, and should tell voters this candidate doesn’t stand behind what they say and can’t be trusted.
    - Second, they can run for another office if they choose, but they are not allowed to use the city council position to raise funds for that office. If they vote on an item and then accept money from the person who placed that item before them, that vote is compromised. It’s good public policy to have a system of checks and balances to prevent this from happening.
    - There are a lot of people out there who can contribute to a campaign. If a council member chooses to accept money from someone with business before them, the public needs to be guaranteed that that person does not have extraordinary access to government resources. The existing ordinance provides that equity, guaranteeing that someone who pays the council member has no more access than any other member of the public. The whole issue could easily be resolved by the city council members acting ethically and not accepting contributions from those they know have had business before them.
    This ordinance does not unfairly limit any council member from running for another office, and only provides an extra assurance to the public that the city’s business will be conducted in an ethical and proper manner. To remove that protection compromises the integrity of the office of the city council.

    If this is a good idea, why not wait until a non election cycle to consider implementing it? Since it is being done mid campaign, it’s pretty obvious that it might just be in support of a particular member instead of the best interests of the public.

    • francisco barragan
      May 7, 2012 at 10:29 am

      @ Sergio:

      Well stated…thank you for your perspective!

  9. Cook
    May 7, 2012 at 11:31 am

    This is an opportunity.

    A motion can be called and then a substitute motion can be called to extend the current 3 months to an entire year. A year prior and a year following. After all it is only a city law, and does not affect County or State or Federal elections.

  10. francisco barragan
    May 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    It appears that this council including Michele and Sal Tinajero who took thousands of money and voted illegally are not interested in real reform.

    Back in October 2010 when Michele Martinez and Sal Tinajeo voted illegally to give $40 million to developer who gave them thousands in contributions, this council also said the following statement to take-off some of the pressure:

    “Council members also asked city staffers to draw up a ‘sunshine ordinance’ that would open up city government and make its operations more transparent.”

    http://www.ocregister.com/news/city-269590-vote-council.html

    Now when the citizens proposed a sunshine ordinance to open up city government and make it more transparent, this council opposes it, and instead is moving in the opposite direction.

    Francisco “Paco” Barragan
    For Assembly 2012 – 69th AD
    http://www.franciscoforassembly.com

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