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County Considers Ban on Campaign Contributions from Tax Agents

The talk of a ban was related to an ongoing investigation of LA County Assessor John Noguez.

Reacting to allegations that property tax agents slashed assessments for owners who gave money to John Noguez's successful 2010 campaign for county assessor, the Board of Supervisors this week discussed ways to limit and track campaign contributions from tax agents.

A lawyer with the County Counsel's office put brakes on a discussion about banning tax agents from contributing to assessor campaigns all together, saying an outright ban — recommended by Supervisor Don Knabe — might be unconstitutional and violate of free speech laws.

Knabe said county law already prohibits lobbyists from giving money to people running for public office.

So far, only one tax agent has been charged with a crime. Scott Schenter faces 60 felonies for allegedly shaving about $170 million from property valuations in exchange for political contributions that benefited Noguez.     

Noguez has claimed no wrongdoing and is on an indefinite leave. Because of constitutional concerns in restricting political donations, John Krattil of the Office of the County Counsel suggested the board wait to see if Assembly Bill 404 is passed. The bill would mandate that the county ban contributions from tax agents to candidates for county office. Agents also would be required to register with the county and file quarterly reports concerning political gifts.

Without an enforcement mechanism, Krattli said the bill would do little to improve transparency, even if it becomes law. He suggested that the board seek a amendment that would give it the authority to regulate tax agents through county business licenses.     

Krattli also suggested that county computer databases be upgraded to readily track tax agent contributions — information already reported under existing campaign finance laws.

Knabe favored a more direct approach.

"I just don't believe that we should wait for the state to take action," Knabe said. He asked that lawyers start drafting a ban immediately. He also asked for more analysis of constitutional issues in restricting political giving.

The board voted 4-0 to move forward on all fronts: to seek an amendment to the state bill, direct lawyers to draft a local ban and to upgrade campaign contribution databases.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich was absent.

— Elizabeth Marcellino

— City News Service

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