In Wake of Noguez Probe, Supervisors Ban Political Contributions to Assessor

By City News Service

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday adopted an ordinance that prohibits tax agents from making financial contributions to candidates running for county assessor — a ban prompted by the arrest of Assessor John Noguez in a corruption probe.

Noguez, arrested Oct. 17, remains jailed in lieu of $1.16 million bail. He is charged — along with tax consultant Ramin Salari and principal assessor Mark McNeil — with multiple felony counts in a case involving allegations that property tax agents slashed assessments for owners who gave money to Noguez’s successful 2010 campaign for county assessor.

The assessor is charged with two dozen felony counts, including 13 counts of misappropriation of public funds, five counts of perjury, four counts of accepting bribes and two counts of conspiracy. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

County lawyers originally feared that an outright ban on contributions from tax agents — recommended by Supervisor Don Knabe — might spur legal challenges based on a free speech argument, although county law already prohibits lobbyists from giving money to people running for public office.

County Counsel John Krattli said the amendment to the Los Angeles County Campaign Finance Ordinance has been “narrowly tailored and focused to address the corruption issues that have been alleged in (the assessor’s) office” to avoid such a challenge. Assembly Bill 404, which sought to impose similar restrictions statewide, failed in the state Senate.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the measure, which will take effect within 30 days.

County lawyers are also considering a requirement that tax agents pay to register with the county and provide annual and quarterly reports on the clients they represent and political gifts made to any county elected officials.

Without an enforcement mechanism, Krattli has said the campaign finance ordinance would do little to improve transparency. Attorneys are still working out the details of any registration requirement, he said.

Krattli — who estimated that there are at least 1,275 tax agents in the county — has suggested that county computers be programmed to track tax agent contributions — information already reported under existing campaign finance laws.

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November 15, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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