L.A. County Election Heats Up, in Court

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A heated Los Angeles election campaign heads to court Thursday as a candidate for the Board of Supervisors asks a judge to cut off spending by his opponent.
     In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Steve Napolitano claims that U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, his opponent in the race for a seat on the powerful county board, accepted nearly $500,000 more from political action committees than is allowed by county campaign finance laws.
     Hahn already has spent about $115,000 of the illegal excess contributions, Napolitano claims in Superior Court.
     “Unless the court intervenes, defendants will be permitted to spend almost $375,000 in illegal campaign contributions, which is a massive amount of money in this race,” Napolitano says. “The only way to avoid the corrupt influence of illegal campaign contributions in this race is for immediate court intervention to enjoin the spending of any illegal campaign contributions and ultimately, to compel the return of all illegal campaign contributions.”
     Napolitano’s attorney Stuart Leviton, with Reed & Davidson, said he will ask for a temporary restraining order to stop Hahn from spending any of the challenged funds. The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction against Hahn, her campaign, and its treasurer Sherry Lopez.
     In a statement Wednesday, Hahn consultant John Shallman called the county’s limitations on PAC contributions “clearly unconstitutional,” but said the campaign will return the money at issue by late October anyway.
     Shallman called Napolitano’s lawsuit “completely unnecessary,” a “political stunt … to distract voters” from Shalllman’s previous charge that Napolitano is a “slumlord millionaire.”
     That accusation springs from the fact that two low-income Section 8 apartment buildings Napolitano owns were cited for health and safety violations.
     Napolitano has told reporters that all the violations were promptly corrected as part of the annual inspection process.
     The Board of Supervisors race is nonpartisan, but Napolitano, a former member of the Manhattan Beach City Council and then a staffer for Supervisor Don Knabe, is a Republican. He came in second in the primary to Democrat Hahn, a former member of the Los Angeles City Council now in Congress. Knabe is termed out in District 4, the race at issue.
     In an interview Wednesday, Napolitano said his lawsuit involves “the biggest campaign contribution violation in county history.”
     County election laws allow a candidate to receive a combined total of no more than $150,000 in contributions from political action committees in the primary election and another $150,000 in the general election.
     Citing data from Hahn’s campaign finance statements to the county registrar-recorder’s office, Napolitano says she brought in $524,369 from PACs as of June 30, for the June 7 primary.
     That’s nearly $375,000 more than allowed, Napolitano says. Since Hahn had far less than that in cash on hand at the end of June — just under $260,000 — the illegal contributions kept her campaign afloat, he says.
     “Plaintiff alleges that but for the acceptance and the expenditure of illegal campaign contributions, the Hahn Committee would have been broke and unable to carry on,” according to the complaint.
     Napolitano says Hahn’s campaign collected another $140,000 from PACs that the registrar-recorder’s office hasn’t flagged.
     Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan’s office pointed out the improper contributions to the Hahn campaign in an Aug. 10 letter and gave it 30 days to refund them, as allowed by the election ordinances.
     Hahn’s campaign responded by disputing Logan’s legal interpretation.
     Logan’s office stuck by its view in a Sept. 20 letter, but extended the refund deadline another 30 days, to Oct. 19.
     As Napolitano sees it, that lets Hahn keep the illegal contributions until just four weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
     “There’s no legal basis or any other basis” for the deadline extension, he said in the interview. “That’s a total of 70 days” beyond when Hahn should make the refunds, he said.
     “Then they just say, ‘Oops,’ and wait for enforcement after the election,” he grumbled.
     “It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in public officials.”

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