[downloadable PDF version available here]
Op-Ed on The Reform Pledge: "Opinion: The Long Beach Reform Coalition and its pledge", LBPost.com, Oct. 25, 2019
"1st Dist. Council Candidates Elliot Gonzales, Joe Ganem and Shelbyrae Black Join In Signing 'Reform Pledge'", LBReport.com, Oct. 29, 2019
About The Reform Pledge
- Restore Term Limits to Two Terms (by Accurately-Worded Initiative)
Last year, in 2018, a restructuring of Long Beach municipal term limits was passed by the voters in the form of Measure BBB, which gave incumbent mayors and city councilmembers the ability to run for and be elected to three, rather than just two, terms in office without restrictions on ballot access. Arguably, due to poorly (or perhaps intentionally poorly) worded language, BBB may actually provide incumbent councilmembers up to three additional terms in office, after adjudication by the courts, as we pointed out at the time.
Furthermore, BBB was confusingly packaged together with other unrelated changes to the city charter, measures called AAA, CCC, and DDD, and it was advertised to the public as “strengthening” rather than weakening term limits. Indeed, the official ballot summary, written by the City Attorney, described BBB as asking voters, "Shall the City Charter be amended to limit the Mayor and City Councilmembers to serving three terms..." (emphasis added) when an accurately worded summary would not have implied that currently mayors and councilmembers were unlimited in their terms of office. It should instead have said “amended to open the Mayor and City Councilmembers to serving three terms” and made clear that a longstanding two-term limit was already in place.
Therefore, we call on all current and future candidates for Long Beach City Council or Mayor to vow to put this matter back to the voters for an up or down vote on a standalone and honestly and accurately worded ballot measure on municipal term limits.
- Oppose Using Tax Dollars for Political Advocacy
During ballot measure campaigns last year (2018), the City of Long Beach, through the actions of its city manager Pat West, violated one of the most basic precepts of American democracy: It used public taxpayer dollars to take sides in political and electoral matters before the voters. West authorized this corrupt practice twice, once in the spring using $100,000 dollars to put out City seal emblazoned “informational flyers” in support of Measure M (which was on the June ballot) and again in the fall using another $100,000 to put out similar mailers in support of the charter amendments (on the November ballot), including Measure BBB.
He was politically pressured to do this and did so using his discretionary authority as City Manger to expend funds of up to $100,000 without council approval on an emergency basis. The funds, being limited, were maximized politically by means of targeted lists of voters rather than in support of a true information campaign, with balanced content from both sides which would have been sent to all registered voters if not all residents eligible to vote.
Such public expenditures for, while not explicit nonetheless obvious, one-sided campaign literature, has been ruled illegal by the California Supreme Court and other public entities engaged in such behavior have been fined by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
We have outlined the abuses that occurred in Long Beach at length in this video: Use of Taxpayer Funds for Political Campaign Purposes by Long Beach City Hall and in press releases.
We call on all candidates to actively oppose such expenditures in order to preserve local democracy.
- Reform and Limit the Use of Officeholder Accounts
We call on all candidates to support restoration of $5,000 caps to office holder accounts, the original level set in law when they were created in Long Beach in 1995. The accounts were established as a means for officeholders to pay for certain community oriented, semi-political, or promotional activities not appropriate as taxpayer-paid office expenditures with private donations during periods between campaign cycles when campaign accounts are not allowed. They were not intended to be turned into substitutes for campaign accounts, in order to perpetuate a continuous cycle of political fundraising throughout the holding of office. By raising their caps to $30,000 for councilmembers and $75,000 for citywide officeholders, their purpose has been eviscerated.
We also call on candidates to support a repeal of the change in Long Beach officeholder account rules which allowed funds to be transferred to the campaigns of others running for office or reelection. This change has truly rendered officeholder accounts to be political vehicles rather than small allowances for maintaining office.
For more on officeholder accounts, see this article at LBReport.com.
- Restore the Right of the Public to Agendize City Council Items
For more on this lost civic right, see this article at LBReport.com.
- Support Campaign Finance Reforms, including:
- The 6-to-1 ‘Super Match’ for Grassroots Candidates
- Regulation of Political Contributions by Developer Project Teams and Interests Bidding On or Negotiating City Contracts While Pending
- Requiring that Developers Provide a Political Impact Report (PIR) Outlining their Project Teams’ Prior Political Contributions
The 6-to-1 ‘Super Match’ to supplement the fundraising of grassroots candidates who accept spending limits, and thereby help even the playing field between grassroots and insider candidates supported by big money special interests, is an idea first proposed by reformist Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu. For more on his proposal, see here. Currently, Long Beach’s matching funds rate is an abysmal 1:2 ($1 received from the city for every $2 raised, for qualifying candidates) in the primary and 1:1 in the run off. We call on all candidates to raise this level to 6:1 in recognition of the overwhelming money advantage held by special interests-backed candidates.
The concept of regulating the contributions of not just developers, but indeed their entire teams, is catching on with those in the government reform movement in cities which have contributions limits like Long Beach. While the big money (as much as $50,000 per check or more) goes to unlimited ‘independent expenditure’ campaigns in support of particular candidates, there is also an issue with direct candidate contributions when corporations structure their donations through many separate but clearly affiliated individuals. Sometimes even spouses or other family of executives are used to donate additional maximum contribution checks for the purpose of the obvious aggregate effect and attendant influence peddling.
Many reformers would like to ban these contributions altogether. Unfortunately, such a ban would not likely be permissible under currently standing US Supreme Court decisions which allow for the regulation of campaign contributions but ultimately protect them under the highly questionable (and questioned by many constitutional scholars) legal theory equating campaign donations, including from immensely wealth individuals and corporations, to free speech.
As a result, we call on candidates to support not an outright ban but rather a regulation of developer project team contributions, restricting them “starting the day a developer files an application for a project”. Furthermore, the restriction should apply to any entity currently bidding on or negotiating a City contract. Such restrictions may have to be and should be tested in the courts, and thus should include severability and alternative clauses, which would switch the requirement to full disclosure instead of restriction. Full disclosure should go beyond current reporting requirements to the preparation of a report collating all relating contributions to make the aggregate influence peddling clear to the public.
Similarly, we call on all candidates to support our new concept of the Political Influence Report (PIR) for developers and ideally for all entities doing contractual business with or requiring approval by the City. The PIR would require filing a compendium of prior contributions, by the entire project or organizational team, leading up to the filing of an application with the City or entering into the bidding process or contract negotiations.
- Hold At Least Four Open Town Hall Meetings Per Year
- Insist on Competitive Bidding for All City Projects & Contracts
- Always Defend the Right of Active Public Participation in Governance
- Reinvigorate Full Transparency in City Government, including Compliance with the Brown Act & the California Public Records Act