Board of Supervisors Considers Ban on Campaign Contributions from Tax Agents

In the wake of a corruption probe into the county assessor's office, a lawyer for the county counsel's office said an outright ban might be unconstitutional and violate free speech.

Reacting to allegations that property tax agents slashed assessments for owners who gave money to John Noguez's successful 2010 campaign for county assessor, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday discussed ways to limit and track campaign contributions from tax agents.

The board voted 4-0 to move forward on all fronts: to seek an amendment to a state bill, direct lawyers to draft a local ban and to upgrade campaign contribution databases. Supervisor Michael Antonovich was absent.

A lawyer with the county counsel's office abruptly ended the discussion Tuesday about banning tax agents from contributing to assessor campaigns all together, saying an outright ban -- recommended by Supervisor Don Knabe -- might be unconstitutional and violate of free speech laws.

Knabe said county law already prohibits lobbyists from giving money to people running for public office.

So far, only one tax agent has been charged with a crime. faces 60 felonies for allegedly in exchange for political contributions that benefited Noguez. Those properties are located in in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.

In addition, Noguez's biggest campaign contributor was the chief executive of the Santa Monica-based real estate firm .

West Hollywood Mayor Jeff Prang works for the Assessor's office as a special assistant, serving as a liason between the office and the Board of Supervisors.

Noguez has claimed no wrongdoing and is on an . Due to constitutional concerns in restricting political donations, John Krattil of the Office of the County Counsel suggested the board wait to see if Assembly Bill 404 is passed. The bill would mandate that the county ban contributions from tax agents to candidates for county office. Agents also would be required to register with the county and file quarterly reports concerning political gifts.

Without an enforcement mechanism, Krattli said the bill would do little to improve transparency, even if it becomes law. He suggested that the board seek an amendment that would give it the authority to regulate tax agents through county business licenses. Krattli also suggested that county computer databases be upgraded to readily track tax agent contributions -- information already reported under existing campaign finance laws.

Knabe favored a more direct approach.

"I just don't believe that we should wait for the state to take action," he said. Knabe asked that lawyers start drafting a ban immediately and also asked for more analysis of constitutional issues in restricting political giving.


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