“The state rules require a public official to perform a duty on behalf of [their city]. Merely being a public official is not enough to use this exception.” — Roman Porter, executive director, Fair Political Practices Commission, told Tibby Rothman, LA Weekly, on Thursday.
With District Attorney Steve Cooley running for California Attorney General, he’s got to look at the political ramifications of going full bore after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for violating the law by not reporting all the gifts of tickets (meals, wine and travel) he’s taken — some clearly from those who stand to profit from the favors he has dispensed.
Will it hurt his chances with Latino voters, hamper his ability to raise campaign funds, cost him the election?
Politics should not be consideration, nor should Cooley, as his office has indicated, sit back
and wait for the city Ethics Commission to decide on whether Villaraigosa — unlike every other elected official in California — is exempt from city and state ethics laws on reporting gifts because everything he does is ceremonial and part of his official duties.
Based on the Ethics Comission’s track record, the mayor could be out of office and serving on the boards of corporations he’s done favors for by the time a report is issued.
Here’s a suggestion: Why not take the politics out of it and expedite the investigation by appointing a special prosecutor?
Who better for that job than a smart attorney who already has done the legal research and is motivated to get to the bottom of the Ticket-Gate Scandal, namely Walter Moore, the runner-up to Villaraigosa in last year’s mayoral election and the main who filed a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission.
Since early June, Moore has been blogging extensively about Ticket-Gate at his website. He calculated the mayor could face bills of $405,000 for gifts tickets and suggested it was legal for the mayor to accept gifts of Staples Center tickets from AEG because the Municipal Code bans on such gratuities from restricted sources, persons doing business or seeking to do business with the city.
Given the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies AEG has gotten it qualifies under the law as a restricted source.
Recently, he did the legal research for the benefit of the media, public and investigators of the city and state laws on gifts to politicians, noting that Villaraigosa must comply with provisions of both in reporting all income he received to prevent conflicts of interest.
The 1990 city Governmental Ethics Ordinance, he noted, states, “In addition to statements of economic interests filed pursuant to the (state) Political Reform Act of 1974, as amended, high-level filers shall file financial disclosure statements disclosing” various items not required under the state law. Those items include “[a]ny income (including . . . gifts . . .) regardless of whether the source of income . . . does . . . business in the City of Los Angeles.”
Villaraigosa’s defense for not reporting his gifts comes from a state law provision: “A ticket or pass provided to an official for his or her admission to an event at which the official performs a ceremonial role or function on behalf of the agency is not a gift to the official.” (Cal. Code Regs. Title 2, Div. 6, § 18944.1.)
Moore is unconvinced by the mayor’s spin team that everything he does is in his “official” role as mayor.
“First, Villaraigosa and his staff apparently have no evidence that Villaraigosa actually ‘perform[ed] a ceremonial role or function on behalf of the City,’ within the meaning of the state regulation, at 81 events for which he received tickets,” Moore wrote.
“Second, the mere act of attending a concert, sporting event or stand-up does not constitute performing ‘ceremonial role or function’ under the FPCC regulation. More is required.”
His research turned up an FPPC opinion letter issued to a City Council Member in Berkeley, explaining why her attending the grand opening of a theater qualified for the “ceremonial role or function” exception
The gist is the Council contributed millions of dollar to open the theater, the council member was introduced at the grand opening and event directors introduced and thanked the Council for its support.
Moore writes: “That is a very far cry indeed from, “You attended Beyonce’s late show. Wherever you go and whatever you do constitutes official business, because you are special. ‘Nough said.”
“Villaraigosa needs to prove he attended an event to conduct a ceremony — not that he conducted a ceremony so he could attend an event. “Here honey, take this nice calligraphy certificate and get lost so Lu and I can see the show.”
Moore notes that city law,unlike the state, doesn’t exempt tickets from being reported if they are worth more than $100
Besides that, city law requires disclosure of all gifts regardless of vallue which is why the mayor’s most recent disclosure filing included a $15 hat, a $50 clock, $75 worth of tequila, and $150 “event ticket.”
Finally, he points out, Villaraigosa violated city ethics laws by accepting tickets worth more than $100 per year from companies like AEG that are actively involved in seeking permits, subsidies, tax breaks and other concessions from the City. LAMC § 22.214.171.124. This is a lower dollar limit than state law imposes, namely, $420 per year. (Cal. Gov. Code §§ 89503(a) ($250 limit) and 89503(f).)
“Bottom line: Villaraigosa’s acceptance of tickets worth tens of thousands of dollars, and his failure to disclose those tickets on his disclosure forms, constitutes a serious breach of ethics laws,” Moore says. “Don’t be fooled by professional “spinners” who want you to think there’s some loophole that authorizes this type of corruption. There is not.”
You can read all that and more at waltermooresays.com.
I’m sure Cooley would be squeamish about naming the mayor’s No.1 challenger in last year’s election as a special prosecutor, the man who filed the formal ethics complaint, the man who so clearly has no respect for the way the mayor has ruled the city for the past five years — in his official as well as ceremonial roles.
But that won’t keep Moore from filing friend of the court’s briefs if Cooley actually goes so far as to file charges against Villaraigosa, charges that could go far beyond Ticket-Gate if subpoenas were issued and a grand jury impaneled.
With Moore’s help or on his own, Cooley has the chance to go down in history as the crusading District Attorney who cleaned up LA City Hall or the DA who sat back and let the spin-doctors and manipulators and insiders let the mayor get off with a slap on the wrist.