Orange County voters will be asked if they want to give the California Fair Political Practices Commission the authority to prosecute violations of a local campaign finance ordinance.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors agreed today to place the question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
If voters approve a change in the Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics -- or TINCUP -- ordinance approved by voters in 1991, then it will come in the face of opposition from the law's author and current enforcer, Shirley Grindle.
"I believe it is only a Band-Aid solution to what is really needed," Grindle said of putting the FPPC in charge of prosecuting civil violations.
"It doesn't solve the monitoring of county campaigns I've been doing since 1978," Grindle told the supervisors.
She also warned that the FPPC will make violations -- even inadvertent ones -- public, unlike her protocol, which is to handle discrepancies behind the scenes with the elected leader.
Grindle said the county should form an ethics commission, an idea she has championed for five years.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer praised Grindle's work as a campaign finance watchdog and said he also has supported the formation of an ethics commission. But he said he preferred hiring the FPPC after reviewing how the agency works on a similar basis in San Bernardino County.
"There will be random auditing" of elected leaders under the FPPC plan, Spitzer said, addressing one of the many "myths" he said has sprouted up about the proposal.
"Another myth is this somehow usurps the authority of the District Attorney," Spitzer said. The commission can still refer criminal cases to prosecutors, "and the District Attorney still has the power to do an independent investigation," he said.
Spitzer said he was "disappointed" in Grindle's opposition because it will make it an "uphill" battle to convince voters to support the plan.
Orange County board Chairman Shawn Nelson said Grindle was being "a little shortsighted."
He praised Grindle's work overseeing TINCUP, but noted that when she stops doing so, no one will be around to pick up the mantle.
"You're extremely unique and we're not always going to have you," Nelson said. "What the FPPC has is stability ... If we didn't have Shirley Grindle with her 3-by-5 index cards stacked up all around her house, we wouldn't have anything ...
"This isn't about us. We're going to be gone (when the FPPC begins its work) and you've got to have a system that isn't dependent on just one person ... They have continuity. People who do this for a career ... It's a better solution than nothing, and absent you we have nothing."
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach noted an ad hoc county committee recommended changes to TINCUP four years ago, but the board decided against taking action. Grindle complained then that the recommendations would "gut" the ordinance.
Moorlach said San Bernardino only had to pay about $9,000 last year to the FPPC, a "much cheaper" alternative to a recent grand jury's suggestion of forming an independent review board to enforce ethics.
--City News Service