By Todd Spitzer, Chairman of the O.C. Board of Supervisors
This week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors moved closer to finalizing a ballot measure that would create an independent ethics oversight commission and strengthen enforcement of regulations on campaign finance, lobbyists, and other governmental ethics.
The newly formed ethics commission would oversee conduct relating to “Time is Now, Clean Up Politics” (TINCUP), which was passed in 1978 creating the Orange County Campaign Reform Ordinance; the County gift ban; the County Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Ordinance; and the County Code of Ethics.
“Creating an Orange County Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission will increase transparency and ethics reform in Orange County,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer. “My view on an ethics commission has remained constant. I was looking to see that key issues were addressed including the budget, subpoena power, appointments and training. I’m confident that this Ordinance has the teeth to make a difference and to serve as a useful resource and tool.”
Supervisor Spitzer had been working with TINCUP author Shirley Grindle and Supervisor Shawn Nelson since 2013 to improve ethics oversight. Since returning to the Board of Supervisors in 2013, Spitzer had been pushing for a County ethics commission as proposed by Grindle and her colleagues, former Common Cause Chairman Bill Mitchell and Chapman University Professor Mario Mainero. When the County ethics commission effort was unsuccessful in 2013, Supervisors Nelson and Spitzer created Measure E, which the voters approved in November 2014 to authorize the County to contract with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Implementation of Measure E required a change in state law, but after legislation by Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) stalled in 2014 and by Assemblyman Matt Harper (R-Huntington Beach) stalled in 2015, Supervisor Nelson led a working group with Supervisor Spitzer, Ms. Grindle, Mr. Mitchell, and Professor Mainero to develop the Orange County Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission.
Supervisor Spitzer sponsored a Roundtable Discussion on the Future of Ethics in Orange County in April 2015. In July 2015, he formed the Orange County Ethics Committee, composed of representatives from each Board of Supervisors office to study models of ethics oversight, with Supervisor Spitzer’s appointee serving as chairman and Supervisor Andrew Do’s appointee serving as vice chairman. The committee took testimony from a wide variety of experts in the field of ethics and returned to the Board of Supervisors with a 249-page report in September.
The commission would have the authority to subpoena bank statements of campaign committees, create an independent campaign contribution tracking system, develop an annual ethics training program for county officials and staff, and investigate and enforce TINCUP.
After incorporating a number of key amendments proposed by Supervisor Do to improve the commission proposal, County Counsel will return to the board on October 20, 2015 with final measure language and a proposed directive to place the Orange County Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission on the ballot for the June 2016 election.