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Santa Monica City Council to Consider Probe of Possible Election-Law Violations
By Niki Cervantes
November 27, 2017 -- In the wake of an investigation that found Santa Monica's Huntley Hotel had violated state election laws, the City Council on Tuesday is expected to launch a general probe of possible violations of similar local laws.
Council Members Sue Himmelrich and Kevin McKeown -- who placed the item on the agenda -- say the motion does not specify the Huntley, which was the focus of letters sent by the local Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, Santa Monica Forward and the League of Women Voters calling for a probe of the hotel.
The Huntley was fined $310,000 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) in August for disguising its campaign contributions in City Council elections behind different contributors ("Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica Facing $310,000 Fine for Concealing Contributions," August 8, 2017).
“This item is not about the Huntley, though it was the Huntley matter that prompted the item,” Himmelrich told the Lookout. “We have received correspondence from several fronts, including individuals, special interest groups, and others, concerning the City’s enforcement of its own campaign contribution laws.
"I do not believe that our residents should be forced to go to the FPPC or the DA for enforcement,” Himmelrich said. "We should also enforce our own laws."
Said McKeown, "I am not proposing an investigation into any one donor or any one set of violations." He, too, noted that "the stipulation by the Huntley is mentioned in some correspondence the Council has received recently."
Among the key voices calling on the council to investigate the Huntley are Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel workers, and Santa Monica Forward, a group established in 2015 to counter the City's slow-growth movement.
Both are staunch advocates of more development, including bigger and taller hotels slated for three sites Downtown ("Santa Monica Hotel Union Urges Taller Buildings After Victory," November 18, 2016).
Last year, Forward spent more than $740,000, mostly in contributions from developers, to defeat Measure LV, a slow-growth initiative on last November's ballot ("More Than $1.2 Million Spent to Defeat Santa Monica’s LUVE Measure," February 6, 2017).
The FPPC hit Huntley with 62 counts of hiding its identity in contributions to local politicians in 2012 and 2014 as it fought the Miramar project.
The Huntley’s actions “appear to have been violations of both state prohibitions on laundering campaign contributions as well as violations of Santa Monica’s limit on campaign contributions,” the union and Forward wrote in a letter to the council.
Another prominent group seeking a City probe of the Huntley is the Santa Monica League of Women Voters, whose leadership ranks includes board members with ties to Forward.
In its letter to the council, the League asks that the investigation be conducted by outside counsel acting independently of the City Attorney’s Office.
“It should be noted that the FPPC did not find the Council members in violation of Election Law, nor did it find that their campaigns were aware of the Huntley's behavior,” the letter from League President Barbara Inatsugu said.
“The request for independent counsel is specifically to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest or bias,” she said.
The League drew accusations of bias before last year's elections when its board unanimously voted to oppose Measure LV ("Santa Monica League of Women Voters Accused of Bias for Opposing LUVE Slow-Growth Initiative," June 8, 2016)
In a letter to the council, former Planning Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad, a slow-growth advocate, said a City probe of the Huntley is unnecessary.
"The decision of the (FPPC) should be accepted as a fair investigation which appropriately penalized the Huntley Hotel for violating laws governing campaign contributions," Lopez Dad wrote.
"Having a City investigation is unnecessary, duplicative and costly."
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