Friday, December 21, 2001
Ethics Panel Charges Holden With Campaign Violations; He Says Law Confusing
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The city Ethics Commission yesterday charged Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden with multiple violations of the campaign finance law in connection with his 1999 reelection.
The councilman responded by blaming confusing campaign finance laws for the fact that his campaign apparently accepted more than $5,000 over the city’s contribution limits.
The commission accused Holden and campaign treasurer Anne Froehlich of 31 violations, including accepting $5,150 in contributions that exceeded the city limit of $500 per person, per election.
Holden said the accusations were “not serious” and that the laws make it difficult to make sure that individuals are not contributing more than the limit.
“I did everything humanly possible to be in compliance with the rules and regulations,” Holden said.
Holden said he received a letter from Froechlich during his 1999 campaign saying that everything was in order in terms of the campaign’s accounting.
After the campaign Holden said he acquired a computer program that allowed him to cross-check donations, found that some donations could be disputed and returned most of the checks.
“I returned 90 percent of those donations,” Holden said.
The laws are confusing because candidates are held responsible for knowing whether husbands and wives or business partners both contributed to a campaign, Holden said. Contributions by a husband and wife totaling more than $500 violate the law, he noted, and that makes it difficult to track.
The commission also accused Holden of submitting 20 additional matching fund claims for contributions that had already been matched, resulting in $2,720 in excess matching funds.
Individual contributions are matched dollar-for-dollar up to $250.
The commission will decide on Jan. 10 whether to conduct its own hearing, hear the matter along with a hearing officer, or refer the matter to a hearing officer.
Holden said he rejected an offer by the commission to settle the case for a penalty of $1,000 per violation of the $500 limit.
“That’s punitive,” Holden said. “This commission is not in place to be punitive. It’s in place to make sure people make a diligent effort to follow the rules.”
This is the second time Holden has faced sanctions from the Ethics Commission. Holden and Froehlich were fined $27,500 in 1999 for excess contributions and spending out of an account reserved for communicating with constituents during his 1995 reelection campaign, Ethics Commission spokeswoman Barbara Freeman said.
The fine, which was reached in a settlement, was the largest action ever taken against a sitting election official by the commission, Freeman said.
The action came just days before the election and Holden said he was persuaded to settle by people in his campaign to avoid having a negative impact on his reelection bid.
“This time I’m not doing that,” Holden said. “The commission needs to hear my side,” Holden said.
If the commission finds the accusations to be true, it can take Holden’s prior campaign violations into account when determining the penalty, Freeman said.
The maximum penalty is $5,000 for each violation—$155,000 if all the accusations are sustained.
Holden is not the only member of the City Council to run into trouble with the Ethics Commission in recent months.
Councilman Hal Bernson, who had already been fined twice for campaign finance law violations, was fined $18,500 in August for accepting excess contributions. Bernson and treasurer Leo Howard were charged with taking $11,600 in donations that exceeded the city’s per-person limits for the councilman’s 1999 re-election campaign.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company