Nonprofits Urge City Council to Limit Behested Payments

LOS ANGELES — As the FBI investigates corruption at City Hall, good government groups urged the Los Angeles City Council to approve a reform at Wednesday’s meeting that would restrict elected officials from seeking certain charitable donations from lobbyists, contractors and bidders on city work. Prohibiting elected officials from soliciting “behested payments” from “restricted sources” will help curb the perception of pay-to-play politics at City Hall, the groups said.

“While the solicitation of donations by elected officials to charitable causes can be beneficial, the practice often results in real or perceived quid pro quo interactions,” said the letter filed May 21, 2019 with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and submitted to council.

The letter was signed by California Common Cause, California Clean Money Campaign, Citizens Take Action, League of Women Voters Los Angeles, Money Out Voters In, and Unrig L.A., and a separate letter in support of the behested payment ban was submitted by the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter. Together, the organizations represent more than 40,300 members in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission in February recommended the City Council adopt behested payment restrictions as part of a larger package to reduce the influence of wealthy special interests in city politics that’s been under consideration for more than one year.

The behested payment reform would:

  • prohibit elected officials from soliciting behested payments from restricted sources, defined as a “lobbyist, lobbyist firm, contractor, bidder, a person who attempted to influence an elected official in the past 12 months regarding an action that would have a material financial effect on the person, and a person who is party to a proceeding involving a license, permit, or entitlement that, in the previous 12 months, was pending before the elected official or body of which the official is a member”
  • establish exceptions to the above prohibition, including solicitations made because of a state emergency, made publicly through mass media or at a public gathering, made for services provided to the City, or made as a result of an elected official’s participation in a grant application submitted on behalf of the City
  • lower the disclosure threshold from $5,000 to $1,000

The people defined as restricted sources could still make donations to nonprofits on their own accord.

“The behested payments recommendations set forth by the Ethics Commission are a targeted approach that tackle the corruptive aspect of behested payments head on,” the letter states. “The proposals have also arrived at a time where Los Angeles residents are concerned and looking for solutions.”

The city already bans campaign contributions from lobbyists and bidders or contractors for City contracts over $100,000. But behested payments from those entities are allowed and must be disclosed if they are more than $5,000.

Behested payments are frequently requested from sources doing business with the city — and they are not without controversy.

Of the top 10 entities that reported behested payments in the last five years, eight had business with the city during that period, and 52 percent were made by payors who had business before the city either 12 months before or after making a behested payment, according to a recent report from the Ethics Commission.

Late last year, the FBI raided the home and office of a city councilmember who allegedly solicited behested payments for a private school where his wife was employed as a fundraiser himself and through his staff. The donations were primarily from real estate developers and others who were seeking or had received favorable votes from the council member.

The investigation was noted in letter from good government groups and is related to one addition they are seeking to the proposed reform. They want the restriction to apply to elected officials — and their agents, i.e. staff.

Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 22 at City Hall.