Too bad lawyers don’t have to take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when they argue their cases before judges.
If they did, Antonio Villaraigosa’s long-time campaign treasurer Stephen Kaufman would not have told the panel of state appellate judges the things he did today or he’d be worried about perjury charges instead of the handsome fees he’ll charge the League of Women Voters and the L..A. Chamber of Commerce he represented.
What Kaufman told Presiding Judge Candace Cooper and her two female judicial colleagues — who I assume have not now nor ever been involved with the League of Women Voters — is that Measure R extending City Council term limits and banning lobbyist contributions to their campaigns was a “good government” reform.
“It’s working,” he said, “to reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests on City Hall.”
He said it with a straight face and a sober voice but I could hardly contain myself. In the two years since millions of dollars were raised by lobbyists and their clients to hoodwink the public about Measure R, only one thing has changed: The lobbyists don’t have to write checks anymore.
Actually, a second thing has changed: The insider political culture of City Hall has gone from being pretty corrupt to totally corrupt where everything is for sale. Measure R emboldened the system; they knew if they could sell it as reform, they could sell the public anything with enough money.
Tuesday’s hearing was the culmination of an amazing two-year effort by community activists David Hernandez and Ted Hayes to keep alive their legal challenge which they did with help from advocates of term limits and other genuine “good government” organizations and individuals.
The heart of the legal argument is whether the state Constitution’s ban on multiple subject state initiatives and legislative measures applies to a charter city like L.A. And if it does, whether there is any logic that brings together as a single subject a ban on lobbyist contributions and giving council members three, instead of two, terms.
I wish I could say that the judges were as ready to embrace applying the Constitution’s single subject requirement to L.A. as they appeared to be willing to find false the claims that lobbyists and term limits had some legitimate connection.
It’s always risky to try to read the minds of judges but my money is on them holding their noses and ruling that laws against public corruption and corruption of the political process don’t apply to L.A.
As Kaufman said: “Don’t substitute your own value judgments for the people of L.A.’s.”
Kaufman argued as if influence peddling were a thing of the past. It used to be that council members — most of whom have spent much of their adult lives in city government — didn’t know the way to the bathroom without lobbyists leading them by the hand. So they took favors and campaign money and looked forward to the day when they too would become lobbyists richly rewarded for their ability to get what clients want.
But with a third term, those days are over. As Kaufman told it, the council members are now experienced and skilled legislators who don’t have to worry about future employment and are forbidden from taking favors or cash from lobbyists — apparently the one and only class of people intent on corrupting City Hall.
Does the mayor’s campaign treasurer not know what promises are being made to raise the millions that go through his hands to fund Antonio’s campaigns?
Does he not know that former Councilman Richard Alatorre — an admitted felon among other things — is one of the mayor’s closest advisers while representing unions, taxicab companies, Home Depot, Las Lomas and a lot of others in need of real insider help. And if he’s read the Times, he knows Alatorre didn’t even register as a lobbyist until a year after Measure R passed.
Did Kaufman not learn anything when he and Villaraigosa got fined by the Ethics Commission for campaign funding violations?
Eric Grant, the San Francisco lawyer challenging Measure R, fought
gamely to trace the history of the single subject requirement back to
the founding of the state in 1849 and why it is needed to protect
voters from manipulation and “logrolling” — making them vote for
lobbyist bans if they want term limits or for term limits if they only
want lobbyist bans.
In this case, he said, ethics reform was
popular because of public perception of the way City Hall operates so
it was used as a “cynical attempt to extend their terms in office at
the public trough.”
“Voters were forced to vote for things they
liked and things they didn’t like. The way to find out what voters
really want is to put before them separate issues.”
He was on
shakier ground trying to convince the judges that the Constitution and
case law show the single subject rule should apply to city ballot
measures but he struggled when the judges asked him if he was urging
them to break new legal ground by extending the rule to the city..
argued it was the city seeking an exemption from the single subject
rule, not him seeking an extension. “The city is asking for powers even
the state legislature doesn’t have.”
But Judge Cooper drew a
distinction between complicated state legislative issues and the
amateurism of many initiative efforts and city government’s situation.
she asked several different times why the single subject rule wasn’t
expressly prohibited for cities if that was the intent.
are express prohibitions to initiatives and legislative action …(so)
why shouldn’t we expect an express prohibition for cities?”
City Attorney Valerie Flores hammered hard at that point, painstakingly
going through case law in an effort to undermine Grant’s arguments.
she seemed to assume the judges are completely ignorant in arguing
Measure R was a single subject proposition when Judge Cooper asked: “If
the single subject rule did apply to term limits and lobbyists, what
would it be?”
“Term limits is related to reducing the influence of lobbyists in city government…They work hand in hand,” Flores said.
noted council members running for a third term have raised hundreds of
thousands of dollars each but “not one dollar has come from lobbyists.”
when i had to be restrained from jumping up and shouting that they’re
banned from giving their own money but they’re raising millions from
their clients all of whom want something for their money — and are
A ruling could come in a few days or a few weeks.
I’m not hopeful the judges will blow up the corruption of City Hall
that was so plain to see.
As Flores argued in so many words: If the public doesn’t like it, let them do something about it.