Letter to the Editor:

What Happened to Political Reform?

In one of the first council meetings this year, Mayor Kevin Muldoon appointed Council Members Scott Peotter, Diane Dixon and Jeff Herdman to an Ad Hoc committee to review and recommend reforms to ensure our political campaign laws in Newport Beach can be enforced to protect the public. What has happened since then? Absolutely nothing.  

Apparently, the committee has been advised not to meet since Council Member Peotter is still under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (“FPPC”). Peotter was cited twice for taking contributions that exceed the city limits, first by the city clerk and a second time in a complaint filed by Jeff Herdman with the FPPC. The evidence for the violations was contained on Peotter’s own reporting forms he filed with the city. Since then, a new complaint has been filed by Susan Skinner, alleging that Peotter failed to properly report his economic interests.

Normally, the city would depend on its city attorney to enforce its municipal ordinances, but this creates a conflict since the city attorney reports to the council, and the city attorney himself claims to lack jurisdiction to enforce our city’s campaign contribution limits ordinance, which was adopted in 1995 and had been deemed enforceable for over 20 years and 10 election cycles.

The council had the opportunity to address this in 2015, but the majority, including Council Member Peotter, chose to wait until a new council was seated before considering appropriate political reforms. As could be expected, in 2016 a second candidate filed a report showing that he also failed to comply with the city’s campaign contribution limits. Once again, the city council and the city attorney did nothing.

All citizens, no matter which faction or party they may align with, have a right to expect that our laws with be fairly and fully enforced. Peotter and the city council have failed the residents by not making the campaign contribution limits enforceable by a third party, such as the new Orange County Ethics Commission, a Special Prosecutor or the City Attorney. And where is the District Attorney? He recused himself from the 2016 case since he had accepted contributions from the candidate in question.

Peotter is now facing a recall, in no small measure because he has put himself above the law and Newport residents have no other option to ensure the protection of our democratic process. The rest of the city council should act now to ensure our contribution limits are enforced, lobbyists are registered and disclosed, and fundraising from people having business before the council is limited to election years.  

Kristin M. Cano

Corona del Mar