Two weeks ago we introduced the concept of the "House of Ill Repute” – a place where we can gather all the apparent ethical violations and hypocrisy that pass as currency in our current City Council’s idea of politics. Today we have our first tenants. They booked a double room because most of the time they are fellow travelers – they vote the same way, they show up at the same fund raisers, and in fact, they are their own BFFs, so it’s not surprising that they are our first occupants.
PRINCIPLES BEING VIOLATED
Before we check the register to see who they are, let’s review the City’s Code of Ethics -
“2.3 Safeguard ability to make independent, objective, fair and impartial judgments by scrupulously avoiding financial and social relationships and transactions that may compromise, or give the appearance of compromising, objectivity, independence, and honesty.”
“2.4 Carefully consider if exceeding or appearing to exceed authority of office for personal and/or financial gain. When in doubt, avoid actions that create, in the mind of a reasonable observer, the appearance of impropriety, ethical lapses, legal violations, or actions inconsistent with the Leadership Principles.”
Note that the City doesn’t merely require that you avoid compromising your integrity, they specifically require that you not “give the appearance of compromising”. This is a much higher standard than merely being good.
According to the FPPC mandatory financial disclosure forms filed with the City Clerk, the Manufactured Housing PAC made the following campaign contributions –
Scott Voigts – 10/26/2010 - $250
Dwight Robinson – 10/2/2012 - $250
In addition, the El Toro Mobile Estates gave $250 to Robinson on 10/2/2012.
Now bear in mind, there is nothing illegal about people running for office or in office accepting money from anyone. There isn’t even anything immoral or unethical about the acceptance of the money. The issues come up once, having accepted the money, you are asked for a favor, like voting to grant a permit for a license for the business owner who detailed your car for free, or refusing to enact an ordinance that a PAC (political action committee) opposes.
“SCENE OF THE CRIME”
On Jan 21 2014, the City Council agenda considered the pleas of dozens of residents to enact an ordinance that gave them an extra layer of protection against the possible closure of the mobile park homes in the City. Click here for a review of that agenda item. Council members Voigts and Robinson spoke at the meeting, and neither one revealed the fact that they had accepted money from the PAC or the managing agent of one of the mobile park homes. Then when it came time to vote, they did what the PAC urged them to do – they ignored the pleas of their own residents and refused to enact an ordinance.
To a naïve person, this looks like what we call a bribe. Black's Law Dictionary defines a bribe as “the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.” IOW -
You hold public office
People give you money
They ask you to do something for them
You do it
But in the political arena in California, this doesn’t constitute a bribe because the people who wrote the laws (the politicians) specifically exempted campaign committees from the type of legal constraints that otherwise would put you before a judge. So what looks like a bribe, and smells like a bribe, isn’t actually a bribe, and therefore, not illegal. Of course, not being illegal doesn’t make something good, nor does it obviate the likelihood that their actions violate the City’s own code of ethics. The code requires them to avoid anything that in the mind of a reasonable observer looks like they might put their financial interests (the $ the mobile home owners gave them) above the interests of the people.
What makes the issue more disturbing is that Voigts and Robinson completely neglected to say that they had received the money. They could have said, as Council woman McCullough did, that they had a vested interest. This would have made their behavior less offensive. By hiding the fact that they too had a vested interest, they certainly gave the appearance of knowing fully well that their behavior was unethical.
So our first two occupants of the House of Ill Repute are Scott Voigts and Dwight Robinson. I suspect there will be more tenants shortly. Meantime it’s worth noting that Voigts shows up first in our “House of Ill Repute” and first in our “House of Lies”. Moreover, Voigts and Robinson were the targets of a 2013 anti-corruption movement - “Save Lake Forest” - that collected more than 4,000 signatures from registered Lake Forest residents.
BTW – feel free to nominate someone for either house by e-mailing me at DrJGardner@gmail.com