That is a question that needs to be seriously considered by anyone watching the deal going down for the Orange County Fairgrounds – can you take money for your campaign and then give the money back and vote for the item helping out your donor?
As things sit now, Facilities Management West is getting a very sweet deal that gives them near total control over the Fairgrounds for 55 years with no real voice for the public or management from Costa Mesa. Mayor Allan Mansoor took money for his Assembly campaign from members of Facilities Management West and Richard Kapko, who was appointed to the committee to choose between American Fairs and Festivals and Facilities Management West. Mansoor, under pressure after his deed was disclosed, gave the money back. But, the money was given back after Facilities Management West was allowed to bid for the contract to operate the Fairgrounds.
In Costa Mesa, does the conflict of interest law even matter?
The way the City Attorney is enforcing the conflict of interest code, a developer (or other entity) could wine and dine the entire City Council and Planning Commission and make contributions to their campaigns. Then, when the item involving that developer (or other entity) comes up for a vote, the City Council and Planning Commission members only need to call for a short recess to go to the break room to write checks to refund the money and meals. Once that is done and the letters refunding the money are signed, City Council and Planning Commission can come out and vote for the project in front of them.
That’s exactly how the conflict of interest code is being handled in Costa Mesa right now – take the money, give it back only when forced to and vote anyway.
That is not the intent or spirit of the law. The conflict of interest law is meant to prevent people from voting on items they will receive financial benefit from. In this case, Mansoor received campaign contributions from members of Facilities Management West and Richard Kapko, so he had no business having any dealings with either of the two parties. Mansoor should have recused himself from having anything to do with Facilities Management West or the Fairgrounds after taking the campaign contributions but did not.
The only way to fix this problem is for the Legislature to reject Costa Mesa’s bid for the Fairgrounds on the grounds the State’s conflict of interest code has been violated and thus the deal can’t be finalized. Yes, there is the risk that the property can be put up for auction, but then maybe the lesson will be learned that conflict of interests need to be properly managed to prevent deals going straight to donors.