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LA County Settles Claim It Used Tax Funds To Campaign For Tax Hikes

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L.A County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrate the passage of Measure H. (Martin Zamora/L.A. County Board of Supervisors)
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In 2017, L.A. County spent nearly $1 million in public funds on a campaign to pass Measure H, a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to fund new services for homeless people.

It blanketed radio and TV airwaves, and ran print ads in newspapers in English and Spanish with the slogan “Real Hope, Lasting Change.”

Now, county taxpayers are on the hook for another $1.35 million to settle legal complaints about the campaign, based on state law which says governments may not spend taxpayer funds to advocate for a tax increase.

This week, the state Fair Political Practices Commission voted to approve a settlement in which L.A. County will pay $1.35 million to drop campaign finance violations, and to dismiss a separate lawsuit by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to lowering taxes.

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The state and the taxpayer watchdog group will each get $600,000 in the settlement and the remainder goes to pay legal fees.

The county admits no wrongdoing and a representative declined to comment beyond offering a written statement saying officials were “pleased to resolve this matter so we can continue to focus on the health and safety of the people of Los Angeles County.”

Association President Jon Coupal said that despite spending a few million dollars on the Measure H campaign and subsequent legal skirmish, the county will still rake in more than $3 billion in Measure H money. He says the settlement amount does not serve as much of a deterrent, which is why the Association will change its legal tactics in the future.

We're going to put bounties on these individuals who engage in this activity,” Coupal said.

He says they will use their portion of the settlement to start suing elected officials who approve spending taxpayer money on tax hike campaigns.

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