The City Council voted 4-1 Monday to begin the process of changing a West Hollywood campaign finance law that prohibits fundraising six months after an election.
The council directed City Attorney Michael Jenkins to draft within 60 days an amendment that will nix the six-month deadline.
Councilman John Heilman, who proposed the fundraising rule change, said the six-month limit conflicts with state election rules. He explained the intent of the forthcoming amendment is to give candidates more time to pay off outstanding debts and close fundraising accounts in compliance with state regulations.
"Campaigns are put into this position where they can't raise money to pay off the existing debt, yet they can't close the account either," Heilman said.
According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission's campaign disclosure manual:
Q: May I terminate my committee even if I have outstanding debt owing to creditors?
A: Yes. When you file your termination statements showing outstanding debt you are declaring that you do not have the ability to discharge debts, loans, or other obligations. However, if you plan to raise additional funds, or pay the outstanding debt with personal funds, you may not terminate.
"I'm actually troubled by this," said Councilman John D'Amico, who cast the dissenting vote. "It seems like this continues the sort of practice that the whole city is for sale without end. ... I'm just really troubled that this is returning us to a policy of revolving door, take people out to lunch, ask them for money while they're trying to get something from us."
Heilman responded that his intention for revamping the law "is to give an opportunity for a campaign account that has a negative balance or an outstanding debt ... to pay off that debt so that that account can be closed."
Councilman John Duran added "the FPPC will not allow an account with debt to be closed, and yet our city ordinance is telling people that you must close it within six months. So it does seem that we're not consistent with state law and regulation."
Mayor Jeffrey Prang said the proposed amendment corrects an "administrative error" in the council's campaign finance overhaul that was approved two years ago.
"We don't want to be giving candidates who have a debt the freedom to screw over their vendors or whoever it is that they owe money to by saying 'sorry, the West Hollywood ordinance made me close down my committee, and you're out of luck because the committee owes you money and it's no longer in place,'" Prang said.
"If we agree to this, we're agreeing to a fish-lined slippery slope that stinks," D'Amico said. "We cannot have the appearance that our City Hall has a revolving door that never stops spinning."