THE PREVEN REPORT--Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell's behavior as of late calls to mind that old joke about the Devil and the lawyer. "All the riches and fame in the world will be yours," says the Devil to the lawyer, "but in return you must give me your soul for all eternity." The lawyer pauses briefly and then asks, "What's the catch?"
O'Farrell's new spin on that old chestnut is that instead of selling his soul for all the riches in the world he's doing it for $3,000. And it wasn't Mephistopheles who offered the cash, it was a relatively small time player named Leeor Maciborski, who was found guilty by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission of using a series of LLCs to give Mr. O'Farrell campaign contributions in excess of the legal limit. The ruling was over a month ago, and the number of times Councilmember O'Farrell has been asked by two particular members of the public to unhand the illicit contributions is too many to remember.
Has there ever been a more blaring case of "penny wise and pound foolish" in the history of humankind?
"Not so fast," Councilmember O'Farrell may retort. "I didn't know those funds were being given illicitly, so why should I be punished?"
Let's be generous in responding to that line of reasoning and take at face value Mr. O'Farrell's pleading guilty by ignorance. That generosity won't come easy, because when a person makes excess contributions to a political candidate, the whole point is to get credit for pitching in, not to make some grand gesture of anonymous magnanimity. In other words, candidates know who gave them money, because the donors "make" them know.
But, again, we are taking the high road right now and swallowing with considerable difficulty Mr. O'Farrell's claim of exculpatory ignorance.
Being let off the hook in this regard, however, does not make it okay for Mr. O'Farrell to keep that $3,000 of illicit contributions, and the public deserves immediate confirmation from him that he will return the money.
The tougher question is to whom should the money be given? One could dream up various convoluted schemes -- give the money to the public matching fund program, for example -- but the only option that really makes sense is to give the money back to the genius who donated the money in the first place.
Won't that encourage others to commit the same crime? No, because the illicit donor is being fined $17,000 by the Ethics Commission. In other words he still comes out behind.
Alternatively, if Councilmember O'Farrell is planning to double-down on his refusal to loosen his grip on the three grand, why not put that money to good use? Mr. O'Farrell's campaign pledge to banish unaccompanied men from city playgrounds seems to have lost some steam since the election. How about three thousand dollars worth of creepy mailers?
Give back the money, O'Farrell!
(Eric Preven and Joshua Preven are public advocates for better transparency in local government. Eric is a Studio City based writer-producer and Joshua is a teacher.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.