Tuesday, March 7, 2017
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Taxpayers Shouldn’t Have to Pay for L.A. County’s Political Ads
By JON COUPAL
Today, Los Angeles County voters will decide Measure H, a proposed sales tax increase to pay for homeless programs. This tax increase will be in addition to the property tax increase to pay for bonds for homeless programs just enacted by the city of Los Angeles last November with Measure HHH.
If you are wondering why Angelinos should tax themselves even more, you’re asking the right question. California is one of the most heavily taxed states in America with the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax and nearly the highest gas costs due to both the high excise tax on each gallon sold plus the additional costs embedded as a result of environmental regulations. And even with Proposition 13, California ranks in the top third among all states in per capita property taxes collected.
The inability of our political leaders to prioritize spending is driving both the state and our major cities into insolvency. If massive spending on homeless programs—assuming it does any good at all—is what the county wants to do, then it should reduce spending on other programs of a lower priority.
But this column is not about the issue of homelessness or even the high tax burden in Los Angeles. It is about the wrongful and illegal practice by Los Angeles County of spending taxpayer dollars to run television ads touting Measure H. Even for voters who are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, and even for those inclined to vote for Measure H, this ought to cause great offense.
Let’s be clear. The use of taxpayer funds for political advocacy is against the law. The free speech clauses of the federal and state constitutions prohibit the use of governmentally compelled monetary contributions (including taxes) to support or oppose political campaigns since “Such contributions are a form of speech, and compelled speech offends the First Amendment.” (Smith v. U.C. Regents, 1993.)
Moreover, “Use of the public treasury to mount an election campaign which attempts to influence the resolution of issues which our Constitution leaves to the “free election” of the people (see Constitution, Art. II, § 2) ... presents a serious threat to the integrity of the electoral process.”(Stanson v. Mott, 1976.)
The pricey television ads viewers are now seeing on their screens in favor of Measure H clearly cross the line into political advocacy. The television ads are not merely informational pieces, they specifically reference Measure H and then exhort viewers to “Vote on March 7th.” In addition, the website and social media outreach campaign conducted by the county raises additional legal problems.
The county’s expenditure of public resources to advance Measure H violates core democratic principles by presenting unbalanced advocacy. It is a serious breach of the public trust when government officials spend public funds to create an advantage for one side of a political campaign. The county may argue that none of the communications come right out and says “Vote Yes on H.” But that is not the test. Informational activity conducted by government much be objective and balanced. The county’s television ads and other outreach efforts to voters are anything but.
In the only good news for taxpayers, government watchdog groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have a solid track record in successfully suing both the state and local governments for these types of offences. Indeed, HJTA has already filed a complaint against L.A. County with the Fair Political Practices Commission as well as submitted a request under the Public Records Act in order to determine both the extent and cost of the illegal activity.
It is adding insult to injury when taxpayer dollars are spent to hurt the interests of taxpayers. Perhaps Los Angeles County voters should consider this on Tuesday.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company