Letter to the Editor:

Time for Reform

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has found probable cause to levy forty-four counts of charges against political operative Dave Ellis, the Ellis run front groups “Residents for Reform” and the “Neighborhood Preservation Coalition” (NPC), and the four council members elected in 2014 as part of “Team Newport.” This is a stunning development that confirmed Residents for Reform and the NPC were operated by Ellis and were funded by payments from major developers, litigants against the city of Newport Beach, and one of the city’s largest private dock owners. These payments [allegedly] far exceeded the city campaign contribution limits and were not disclosed in a timely manner. 

Records show that these funds were used to launch scurrilous attacks against then mayor Rush Hill and to supplement the campaigns of the four council members. 

It was a sad chapter in the history of our city. In 2016, I proposed political reforms to prevent a repeat of what many believe was this special interest buying of the city council. Unfortunately, the council at the time refused to move forward with the reforms necessary to protect the integrity of our elections and to ensure full compliance with our existing political contribution laws. With these forty-four counts of wrongdoing, it is time to renew our call for political reform.

First, we must close the “slate mail committee” loophole that allows big money donors to evade the campaign contribution limits. We should ensure that donations to a slate mail committee count as part of the $1,100 contribution limit.

Second, we must ensure that the campaign contribution limit in our municipal code is fully enforceable. The city attorney has taken the position he lacks authority to enforce it and the city council has refused to appoint a special counsel when violations were reported in 2014, 2016 and again in 2018. We must demand either the automatic appointment of a special counsel or automatic referral to the District Attorney.

Third, we must require paid lobbyists register with the city, so we know who is being paid to influence council decisions. This is done at the Federal, state and county level, and cities around us such has Irvine have had this requirement for some time.

Finally, we must restrict fundraising to the year of the election and the immediate six months following an election. Council members should not be asking for money when critical decisions are before the council. Now is the time for reform. 

Keith Curry 

Former Newport Beach Mayor

The time has come for an election reform discussion

On Tuesday night, Newport Beach election reform will be discussed at the city council meeting at the request of council member Jeff Herdman. This discussion is long-overdue and especially important now for several reasons.

The California FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) has found probable cause that “Team Newport” candidates Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter, Marshall Duffield and Kevin Muldoon, along with their campaign manager Dave Ellis, violated the Political Reform Act 44 times during the 2014 election. This is not ancient history, as their lawyer claims. The candidates all ran again in 2018 and hired the same campaign manager knowing the FPPC was investigating these serious allegations. This was obviously something voters would have cared about and had a right to know before the November 2018 election. It could have caused some to vote differently. 

The new era of transparency is not off to a good start.

After winning a majority on the council in 2014, Team Newport declined to take up the issue of election reform when it was proposed by then-councilman Keith Curry. And when Dave Ellis got two more candidates elected in 2016 as part of his “Team Newport 2.0” slate, hopes for meaningful change faded. 

Luckily for Newport Beach, Dave Ellis did not claim a clean sweep in 2016. Jeff Herdman was elected in District 5 despite the Team Newport-allied forces cited in the FPPC report spending tens of thousands of dollars to keep him off the council. Herdman is now proposing that the campaign finance reform issue be revisited, and the council does not have a single good reason to say no. This latest FPPC report was all the proof we needed that reform is necessary to restore trust and integrity to our local election process.

There’s no better time for election reform than now, and there couldn’t be a better person to lead the charge than Jeff Herdman. Hopefully the council will do the right thing and support his effort without seeking to exclude him from this vital process, or to co-opt or water down his ideas. With what we learned last week, residents are likely to only put their faith in a non-Ellis candidate on this issue. A few solid campaign finance rules can go a long way toward restoring trust. It’s clearly in the best interest of our city to put such rules in place now. 

Jennifer McDonald

Dorothy Kraus

Dennis Baker

Melinda Seely

Jean Watt

Karen Tringali

Nicole Reynolds