By Walter Moore - Attorney - http://WalterMooreSays.com
Special to Mayor Sam's Sister City
Mayor Villaraigosa may wind up being the first inmate in the City’s shiny new jail.
And if you don’t think Villaraigosa’s worried, you haven’t seen the video of him running AWAY from TV cameras -- a first -- when Fox 11‘s John Schwada confronted him with the fact that Villaraigosa’s own calendars and itineraries completely undermine his “ceremonial function” defense.
In any event, the media have so far failed to lay out the relevant ethics laws for you, so allow me to use my lawyer super powers to do that for you here:
1. Villaraigosa Must Comply With Local Ethics Laws, Not Just State Laws
Villaraigosa and his spin team are trying to confuse the press and the authorities by mixing up two completely different sets of laws. State ethics laws use one set of definitions, exceptions and requirements. Local ethics laws use another. The Mayor of Los Angeles must comply with both. That an official has complied with state law does not mean he has also complied with local law.
The state law is called the Political Reform Act of 1974. The local law is called the Governmental Ethics Ordinance, and was adopted in 1990. One of the stated purposes of the local law is “[t]o require elected City officers and key City officials to disclose all . . .income in order to prevent conflicts of interest.“
The local law imposes additional requirements on our local officials here in Los Angeles -- above and beyond the bare minimum needed to comply with state law.
For example, the local law specifically states, “In addition to statements of economic interests filed pursuant to the 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.”
Hence, Villaraigosa must show that he complied both with state and local law, not “either / or.”
2. Villaraigosa Cannot Hide Behind The “Ceremonial Role Or Function” Exception
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which enforces state law, has adopted a regulation declaring that, for purposes of state law, "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.
Villaraigosa and his spin team argue that this state regulation not only allowed him to keep the tickets, but also relieved him of any duty to disclose his receipt of same. That argument is unconvincing for three reasons:
First of all, 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.
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. This is illustrated by an opinion letter the FPPC 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:
"We conclude that this exception applies to your facts. Instead of conducting regular business, the city council canceled a regularly scheduled meeting so that you and the other members could attend the grand opening of the theater. As an official act, the city council contributed millions of dollars toward the construction of the theater. Public funding for the theater is presumably a permissible effort by the city to promote artistic performances. At the event, you attended in your official capacity as a member of the city council and as a city council district representative. In addition, the directors of the event publicly introduced you and publicly thanked the city and the individual city council members for the public funding."
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.”
Third, and most importantly, there is no “ceremonial role or function” exception in the local law. The FPPC regulation only applies to state law, the Political Reform Act of 1974. The FPPC has no jurisdiction to pass regulations pursuant to the City’s Governmental EthicsOrdinance. Nor does the local ethics law adopt or incorporate the definitions or exceptions from the state law.
On the contrary, the local law recognizes that local officials may attend ceremonial events, but rather than exempting tickets to thoseevents entirely, the local law imposes a $100 limit on such tickets. LAMC § 49.5.2 (definition of "gift," exception no. 8) (excluding "Gifts valued at no more than $100 . . . in connection with a non-recurring ceremonial occasion").
Hence, Villaraigosa cannot hide behind the state law’s “ceremonial role or function” exception.
3. Villaraigosa Violated The Local Law’s Disclosure Requirements
Villaraigosa knows full well that local law requires him to must disclose, in writing, all gifts he receives from the public, regardless of their value. That is why his most recent disclosure filing with the City Ethics Commission included a $15 hat, a $50 clock, $75 worth of tequila, and $150 “event ticket.” He therefore should have included the 81 tickets in issue along with all the other gifts on his local disclosure forms over the years.
4. Villaraigosa Violated The Local Law’s $100 “Restricted Source” Limit
Villaraigosa violated the local ethics laws not just by failing to disclose the tickets he received, but also 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.
The local ethics laws prohibit officials from accepting over $100 per year limit on gifts from restricted sources like AEG. LAMC § 18.104.22.168. This is a lower dollar limit than state law imposes, namely, $420 per year. Cal. Gov. Code §§ 89503(a) ($250 limit) and 89503(f) (directing FPPC to adjust figure every two years for inflation). As noted above, however, Villaraigosa must comply with both state and local law.
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. 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.