Mayor Valdivia’s Bribetaking Triggers SB To Institute More Political Fundraising Regulations

Effective on July 2, 2021 members of the San Bernardino City Council will find themselves under greater restrictions pertaining to their votes on actions impacting their campaign donors.
On May 19, the council by a 5-to-2 vote approved an ordinance that augments a campaign contribution ordinance the council passed on September 16, 2020 that set a $4,900 limit on the contributions members of the council can receive. Earlier this month, on June 2, the council ratified the approval of that ordinance with a second required vote, referred to as a second reading. With that vote it also authorized City Manager Robert Field to execute an agreement with the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission for enforcing the regulations and included the funding in the upcoming fiscal year budget to pay for the contract with the Fair Political Practices Commission. The ordinance goes into effect 30 days after the June 2 vote, meaning the new regulations will be in place on July 2.
The most recently passed ordinance requires council members to disclose verbally whether they have received donations greater than $250 from anyone or any entity just prior to a vote impacting that donor if that donation was not already disclosed in writing on their campaign donation disclosure documents that have already been filed.
The council members must also disclose any contributions for a 12-month period prior to any city council action involving the contributor. The ordinance further prevents an applicant coming before the council for project or contract/franchise approval from making a contribution to any member or members of the city council after the application is filed and before the vote is made.
Under the Political Reform Act of 1974, which was passed by the California Legislature 47 years ago, appointed officials are prohibited, under Government Code section 84308, from receiving more that $250 from a party seeking a contract other than one that is competitively bid, a license, a permit, or other entitlement from the panel upon which that appointed official serves. At the municipal level, this most often involves planning commissioners. It does not apply to city council members, as they are elected officials.
The ordinance passed by the council on May 19 extends the prohibition in Government Code section 84308 and the reporting requirement from appointed officials to San Bernardino City Council members.
The impetus for political reform came about because of the open graft engaged in over the last several years by Mayor John Valdivia, who was the city’s Third Ward councilman from 2012 until he was elected mayor in 2018. Baldly and boldly, Valdivia has traded political contributions from individuals with business before the city for city council support he is able to muster for their projects, contracts or franchises.
California law does not prohibit elected officials from taking money from an individual or company and then voting with regard to whether that individual or company is to be provided approval on a project or contract/franchise application, unless it can be determined that there was an explicit quid pro quo in the arrangement. A quid pro quo is said to exist if the vote was made conditional upon the campaign donation being provided.
Valdivia was able to engage in the trading of council approval for projects or contracts/franchises benefiting his donors because in San Bernardino the mayor normally does not vote as a member of the seven-member city council, although he does possess veto power on 4-to-3 or 3-to-2 votes. Thus the votes he was trading on were not his votes but those of his council colleagues.
In the immediate aftermath of his 2018 mayoral victory, Valdivia had a ruling coalition that consisted of the then-newly-elected First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, then-newly-elected Second District Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, then-Fifth District Councilman Henry Nickel and then-Sixth District Councilwoman Bessine Richard. After Juan Figueroa won a special election held in May 2019 to fill the Third District vacancy created when Valdivia left that post to move into the mayor’s slot, Valdivia controlled five votes on the council. He induced campaign donors to provide money to him in exchange for controlling the council and having it approve the items favorable to those donors.
In relatively short order, however, Sanchez, Ibarra and Nickel, upon fully realizing the degree to which Valdivia was manipulating the ruling council coalition’s votes to funnel money to himself, distanced themselves from Valdivia, breaking his hold on the council. Both Councilwoman Richard and Councilman Figueroa, who had to stand for reelection in 2020 and were in some measure dependent upon Valdivia for campaign funding, including funds he transferred to them from his own campaign war chest or directed to them from individuals grateful to him and them for the votes they had made supporting their projects and contracts/ franchises, remained faithful members of Valdivia’s colaition. Richard, however, was voted out of office in the 2020 election and replaced by Kimberly Calvin. Nickel also failed to gain reelection in 2020. He was replaced by Benjamin Reynoso.
Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett has long been at odds politically with Valdivia. Despite the campaign funding reform ordinance measure passed on May 19 and reconfirmed on June 2 having been formulated by its major sponsor, Councilman Sanchez, as part of an effort to limit Valdivia’s political reach and his corruption of the council, Shorett did not support it. His and Figueroa’s votes were the two opposed to the political reform measure.
Shorett said he was not in favor of the $4,900 campaign contribution limit put in place last September and he did not support the reporting requirements and donation restrictions passed on May 19.
“I object to those limitations, because I have integrity and I am honest and I don’t need to be regulated that way,” Shorett asserted. “I do things properly and I can be trusted. In the same way, I am not in favor of term limits. If someone wants to give me $100,000 so I can stay in office, I think they should be able to do that. Just because you give me money doesn’t mean I am going to sell you my vote. If someone gives me $100,000 and they have a project proposal before the city that comes to the council for a vote and the project is not good for the city, I will do the right thing and not vote for it. I understand there are corrupt people in office like John Valdvia, but that shouldn’t put limitations on honest people in office who are not taking bribes.”
Shorett said, “It is the voters who should hold their elected officials accountable, not regulations. You can’t regulate people into being honest. Either you’re honest or you’re not. If you try to regulate someone who is dishonest, like John Valdivia, he’ll find a way to work around those regulations. A guy like John will figure out another way to get paid off. The only way to deal with a guy like John Valdivia is to vote him out of office. It’s the voters who have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ and just vote the crooks who have been elected before out of office. You can’t regulate irresponsibility and you can’t regulate dishonesty.”

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