@THE GUSS REPORT-In any political campaign, there are legions of highly paid professionals who know every nuanced rule about campaign finance, and it is their job to maximize that knowledge for their clients.
Sometimes, this political set makes patently absurd interpretations of those rules to give their clients an unfair and sometimes illegal advantage. When they do, the local elections arbiter is supposed to enforce the rules and rectify the transgression.
Welcome to the Los Angeles County 4th District Supervisor’s race between Republican Steve Napolitano and Democrat Janice Hahn, both of whom seek to replace incumbent Don Knabe, Napolitano’s former boss who has endorsed Napolitano, a former Manhattan Beach Councilman, in the race.
The story goes like this. For the primary season, Napolitano chose the “unlimited personal funds” option to fund his campaign, while Hahn chose the “$50,000 personal funds limit.” In Napolitano making that choice, it lifted the $1,500 limit for donations from individuals to Hahn’s campaign for the primary only. That limit would be reinstated if and when her campaign continued toward the November 8th General Election, which it has, and in which she will face Napolitano. The details were outlined in a March 16, 2016 letter from Dean Logan, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/LA County Clerk, the subject of which was revisited in a July 12 communique from Logan’s office.
When Hahn’s fundraising update was filed on August 1, it showed hundreds of thousands of dollars raised from political action committees (PAC) beyond the limit of $150,000 for the primary and $150,000 for the General Election. Napolitano’s campaign immediately jumped on the issue and, on August 10, Logan’s office advised the Hahn team that the aforementioned removal of the $1,500 individual donation limit did not lift the $150,000 PAC limits. Logan’s letter added that the Hahn campaign would not be penalized for this campaign finance violation if those funds were returned within 30 days, which was September 9. The penalty for not honoring the 30-day deadline could be triple the amount of funds raised illegally.
Since Logan’s August letter and with the November 8 General Election rapidly approaching, the Hahn campaign (which has not responded to CityWatch requests for comment for this article) has employed pretzel logic to hold on to these excess funds … apparently okay with the penalties they would face should their client win the runoff.
These campaign finance rules were established in 1996’s Proposition B, the details of which can be found in Logan’s January 2016 updated pamphlet to candidates on the subject.
“The rules are the rules, the Hahn people know them, refuse to honor them, and are way past the deadline to return these illegally raised funds,” says Napolitano.
In an August 31, 2016 LA Times article, Hahn campaign spokesman John Shallman stated that Logan’s earlier letters about the lifting of personal donation limits also applied to the $150,000 PAC limit, a sentiment that was refuted in Logan’s September 19 reply to Hahn’s people.
“While we recognize that the letters sent on March 16, 2016 or July 12, 2016 do not specifically state that the aggregate PAC limit in 2.190.040 C remained in place,” Logan’s letter stated, “the letters describe the intent of LACC section 2.190.070 D, which is to remove the $1,500 individual contribution limits only.”
In other words, the Hahn campaign says that because Logan’s earlier letters did not specifically state that the $150,000 PAC limit remained, they were free to raise as much PAC money as they wish.
But by that tortured perspective from the Hahn campaign, none of the other campaign finance rules should apply either, since none of them were addressed in Logan’s letters.
In fact, there do not appear to be any circumstances which would lift the $150,000 PAC limits, a rule that may irk Hahn’s people, but that they no doubt have long since known.
Napolitano points out his frustration that Logan’s September 19 letter gives the Hahn campaign even more time to cure the violation, 30 days from that date, which is 40 days past the originally established repayment date. “I am running to represent everyone in this District, regardless of whether they donated to my campaign, the Hahn campaign, someone else, or nobody at all. But we all must live by the same set of rules. Right now, those rules are not being enforced,” he said.
That lack of enforcement and extended deadlines might be due to pressure from some of Logan’s other bosses, the other County Supervisors, some of whom have endorsed Hahn in the race, showing once again that in politics, the rules don’t always apply and that influence (a friendly way to say corruption) almost always rules the day.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who contributes to CityWatchLA, Huffington Post and KFI AM-640. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His views do not necessarily reflect those of CityWatch) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.