Supporters of a Nov. 4 ballot initiative to increase medical malpractice awards blasted a Los Angeles County supervisor Monday for scheduling a board vote to oppose the measure after a group he founded accepted a $75,000 donation from opponents.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for the vote Tuesday, three months after the African American Voter Registration, Education and Participation Project received the contribution from No on Proposition 46.
Proponents of the measure cast the supervisor’s request as an “unethical, sneak attack on patient safety” that amounts to a conflict of interest. Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said Ridley-Thomas should withdraw his motion and recuse himself from any future board deliberations on the topic.
“There’s no precedent we know of for an elected official taking a contribution from a ballot initiative committee then using their official office to instigate a vote on behalf of that committee to side with the initiative sponsor,” Court said. By using his official position to ask the Board of Supervisors to oppose Proposition 46, Ridley-Thomas is “abusing (his) office and the trust placed in it by the voters of the Second District.”
The supervisor did not return requests for comment on Monday.
Frederic C. MacFarlane, a spokesman for the committee, said Ridley-Thomas does not serve as an officer of the organization, “nor does he serve in any other official capacity.”
“Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has hosted an annual event to raise funds to support the organization’s work,” MacFarlane wrote in an email. “AAVREP’s activities are separate and apart from Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ role, duties and responsibilities as an elected member of the” Board of Supervisors.
Jason Kinney, a spokesman for No on 46, said in a statement that “since California’s under-served communities will surely be the hardest hit by the high costs of Prop. 46, the No campaign has made targeted investments in voter education and outreach in those communities a critical point of emphasis.”
“Our support of the African American Voter Registration, Education and Participation Project, which has been successfully registering and turning out voters since 2002, is part of that effort.”
The $75,000 donation preceded a mid-July California Democratic Party weekend gathering where the executive board opted to remain neutral on Proposition 46. Before the vote, Ridley-Thomas, on his committee’s letterhead, urged the party to oppose it and argued it would drive up costs and harm under-served communities.
The committee was first envisioned as a get-out-the-vote effort in 2000, and since has received contributions from labor unions, utilities and candidates.
It has waded into numerous ballot measure campaigns and on behalf of several candidates. It supported Gov. Jerry Brown’s successful Proposition 30 effort to raise state sales and income taxes and opposed the failed Proposition 32 measure that aimed to curb the political power of labor unions in 2012.
That year, the committee raised $1.7 million and spent nearly $1.5 million, much of it for literature, phone banking, canvassing, consulting and advertising of its positions on Propositions 30 and 32.
This year, the committee through mid-August had spent more than $540,000 on behalf of Los Angeles city school board candidate Alex Johnson in his race against George McKenna.