Fullerton citizens can learn to encourage responsible city governance from a new group called the Clean Up Anaheim Coalition. The coalition was formed in the middle of last year in reaction to FBI revelations of the town’s staggering corruption and the subsequent forced resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu.
The coalition base consists of dozens of citizen activists from the People’s Homeless Task Force Orange County and the Anaheim Democrats Club, residents complaining about city hall corruption for a decade or more. Opposition to corruption is nonpartisan, and several members are Republicans or independents. But a crucial addition to the coalition was the newly-rejuvenated nonprofit OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development).
In the previous decade, this group had been instrumental in getting district elections for Anaheim and a living wage for resort workers. In its latest incarnation, it focused on fighting municipal corruption. Most members are Latino and bilingual. They have been building awareness among Anaheim’s working-class communities, bringing dozens more to meetings and rallies in addition to earlier participants.
Toward the end of last year, the former Anaheim Council was shamed into commissioning an independent investigation of the city’s corruption. Recently, the coalition is focused on protecting that investigation – first, from being shrouded in secrecy and then from being limited and underfunded.
But the original impetus for the coalition, last summer, was to try to get then-Councilman Dr. José Moreno’s campaign finance ordinance, known as the “Clean Up Anaheim Act,” passed. This ordinance, partly based on the Levine Act, would prohibit a council member from voting on a matter affecting a party that had contributed $250 or more to them in the past year.
The most important part was that this stricture also applied to Independent Expenditures or PACs, representing well over 95% of the contributions from Anaheim’s wealthy special interests. But last summer, the ordinance failed by the City Council’s 3-3 vote.
Two members who voted against the ordinance – Trevor O’Neil and Gloria Ma’ae – were defeated at the polls in November. Two who supported it – Dr. Moreno and Avelino Valencia – are no longer on Council.
A mostly new Council, all of whom had run on promises of “reform” and “transparency,” was elected. The coalition was optimistic that the Clean Up Anaheim Act could be brought back and passed.
But hopes were dashed this year when the new Mayor, Ashleigh Aitken, announced that she believed that the part of the Act that deals with Independent Expenditures – by far the most important part – would be found unconstitutional under the Citizens United ruling and that defending it would be a doomed and irresponsible waste of taxpayer money.
The coalition strongly disagrees with Mayor Aitken on this. As Vern Nelson argued in the Orange Juice Blog, “The 2009/10 Supreme Court decision known as “Citizens United” prohibits governments from regulating or limiting or banning Independent Expenditures (IE’s.) … The “Clean Up Anaheim Act,” which nearly passed last year (with a 3-3 vote), DOES NOT DO THAT. It does not regulate, limit, or ban any Independent Expenditures. Instead, it prohibits any council member “from voting on a matter affecting the parties who made that IE for one year” – what Nelson describes as “disincentivizing IE’s,” as no vote can be expected in return for them.
As to the unconstitutionality of requiring lawmakers to recuse themselves when voting on an issue involving a group or individual who had donated to their campaigns, the Supreme Court in their Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan 564 US 117 (2011) decision was unequivocal in its support for recusal. As Nelson points out,
“A year after Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that a body like our City Council COULD force its members to recuse themselves for specified conflicts. And it wasn’t just Scalia either – the Supremes ruled unanimously, including all the Citizens United Five.”
The Clean Up Anaheim Coalition is to be commended for supporting Councilman Dr. José Moreno’s proposal and for advocating for the passage of the ordinance to their individual council members representing each Anaheim district.
It appears that despite this new “reform Council” rhetoric, there is less chance of them passing the Clean Up Anaheim Act than ever. So instead, this issue will most likely be taken to the voters of Anaheim as a referendum or initiative – probably the next task of the Clean Up Anaheim Coalition.
But what if Fullerton citizens advocated for a similar campaign finance reform ordinance? The dynamics of city governance would be changed. This publication has tracked the contributions made to Fullerton’s City Council members. With a campaign finance reform ordinance for Fullerton that required council members to recuse themselves from voting on issues pertaining to those contributors, those donors would hold less sway in the city’s decision-making. That might allow the will of Fullerton’s citizens to be heard instead.