INGLEWOOD, Caif. (2UrbanGirls) – A little-known state law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023, that will have an immediate impact on voting patterns by local government.
Senate Bill 1439 (The Levine Act) was signed into law by CA Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 29, 2022, which prohibits “officers” of any state or local government agency, who have received a contribution of $250 or more from an applicant or affiliated party from voting on the applicant’s matter—whether it be a contract, a permit or other entitlement—if the officer knows or has reason to know that the participant has a financial interest in the matter.
The Legal Division of the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which has authority to interpret and enforce the Levine Act, has advised the FPPC that SB 1439’s changes, which take effect on January 1, 2023, apply retroactively. Meaning, if a company made a campaign contribution of $250 or more in 2022 to a member of a city council, that city council member will be required to recuse herself or himself from matters directly affecting the finances of the company for the 12 months following the contribution, even if that contribution has already been made and was made before SB 1439 was signed into law.
In the city of Inglewood, the council slated two agenda items on the upcoming Dec. 20 council agenda that would fall under this law.
Prairie Station LLC / K.I.G. Properties appear to be “gifted” public land from the former Inglewood Redevelopment Agency which the City expects to exempt from the Surplus Land Act.
Despite William Hassan’s best attempt to shield his ownership in both firms, he is listed as the owner of both entities that will benefit from the council’s pattern of unanimous votes in order to develop a 300+ housing development that a local nonprofit sued to ensure affordable units were included.
Hassan, has made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. that exceed the $250 threshold outlined in SB 1439, however, neither Hassan nor any of his companies are listed on any member of the city council’s 2022 campaign forms.
In fact, the City has amended multiple agreements with companies (WOW Media, Electra Media Inc.) prior to the new law taking effect. WOW Media has donated tens of thousands of dollars to both Butts and District 1 Councilman George Dotson during their most recent campaigns.
Electra Media Inc. is on the Dec. 20 council agenda to “continue” operating digital billboards on behalf of Hollywood Park Casino at the intersection of Imperial and Prairie and in front of the Home Depot on LaCienaga Blvd, however, this is the first time the company has ever been mentioned on an Inglewood city council agenda attached to these billboards.
Payments issued to the City on behalf of the billboards have traditionally come from Hollywood Park Casino which regularly makes campaign contributions to the members of the city council as well.
How will these elected officials go forward with such stringent rules looming over them? How will this impact the reelection of Inglewood Councilmembers Eloy Morales and Dionne Faulk who will be on the ballot in 2024?
The answer could lie in action the council took in 2020 to beat state law limiting local campaign contribution limits.
On Nov. 24, 2020, the Inglewood council approved raising the campaign contribtuion limits to $100,000 which according to the Daily Breeze was “21 times higher than what a state senator can take from a single source” making it the highest cap in the state. AB 571 would have capped the individual contribution limit to $4700.
At the [Nov. 24, 2020] meeting, Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said he supports the higher limit because it allows a candidate to compete against political action committees, which are not bound by contribution limits due to the federal Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United. PACs are independent entities that legally cannot be controlled by a candidate, though a PAC can independently spend its money to support, or hurt, someone running for office.
“We had an election where someone spent over $1.25 million on a candidate and they could have done that through a political action committee,” Butts said. The $100,000 limit allows candidates to stay independent without becoming beholden to corporations, he said.
Members of the Inglewood city council regularly record single contributions totaling $10,000+.
Will local elected officials steer campaign donors to political action committees that they will influence despite laws barring them for doing so or find other means to obtain campaign contributions out of the pubic eye?