LA becomes 1st city to enact ban on developer money

The ordinance has been criticized for letting developers make unlimited donations to independent expenditure committees

David Ryu (Credit: Getty Images)
David Ryu (Credit: Getty Images)

UPDATED, Dec. 4, 3:15 p.m.: Los Angeles has become the first city in the nation to ban development companies and their executives from contributing to city officials’ election campaigns.

The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the ordinance, according to CBSLA. The City Ethics Commission staff said L.A. is the only city in the country to enact such an ordinance, according to the report.

“Today, we took a crucial step in rebuilding trust in City Hall,” said Councilman David Ryu, who spearheaded the legislation. “There is nothing more fundamental than building trust in our democracy, and today, we are laying the foundation for a City Hall that works for the people,” Ryu said in his statement.

Before the vote, the Los Angeles Times had reported that the legislation would not take effect until after the March 2022 primary elections. The implementation delay would let candidates for mayor, controller, city attorney and the majority of the 15 city council seats collect money from developers in the next election cycle.

And even after the bill goes into effect, developers may continue to make unlimited donations to independent expenditure committees, the local and state government version in California of national political action committees.

Additionally, the legislation does not alter the practice of elected officials soliciting donations from developers toward officials’ hand-picked charities.

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Government watchdog nonprofits including California Common Cause have criticized the bill for letting incumbent council members accumulate developer money in the next election cycle before only partly turning the spigot off.

Ryu has been working on banning developer money in City Hall since he came into office in 2015. (It should be noted that last month opponents criticized him for accepting donations from two developers, though Ryu said it slipped through the cracks and pledged to refund a dozen donations.)

Ryu’s initial legislative effort seemed to sputter in 2017, but it was revived last year when FBI officials raided the office of Ryu’s City Council colleague Jose Huizar.

An FBI warrant requested that some developers with new projects turn over gifts, vacations, and other perks they provided the Council member, who headed the Council’s Planning Land Use and Management committee, before then Council President Herb Wesson stripped him of that post following the raid.

Developers the FBI is seeking information on include Shenzhen New World Group, a China-based company with planned high-rise projects downtown and near Universal Studios, and Shenzhen Hazens, another Chinese company with a proposed downtown skyscraper. [LAT, CBSLA]Matthew Blake