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In July, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles for “gross misconduct” when it “illegally spent” close to $1 million in taxpayer funds on political advertising. The lawsuit seeks reimbursement to the county treasury and civil penalties.

County officials spent the money on a campaign consultant and political advertising to promote Measure H, a sales tax increase that was on the ballot in March 2017. The advertisements ran on television and radio, in English and Spanish, lauding homeless programs that Measure H would pay for, always with the tag line, “Measure H, Real Help, Lasting Change, Vote March 7,” but never mentioning that Measure H was a proposed tax increase.

While California law allows public funds to be spent providing voters impartial information regarding the pros and cons of a proposed ballot measure, it does not allow government to “‘take sides’ in election contests or bestow an unfair advantage on one of several competing factions” (Stanson v. Mott (1976) 17 Cal.3d 206, 217).

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, stated, “Prior to the election, we complained to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which is supposed to be a watchdog for taxpayers, that Los Angeles County officials were betraying the public trust by misusing public funds for political campaigning. But after more than a year, the FPPC has failed to act, proving that it too is apparently controlled by partisan politicians. Thankfully, there really is a watchdog, called the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, protecting the rights of taxpayers.”

HJTA’s lawsuit also alleges that the county failed to identify itself as the sponsor of its advertising and failed to file required campaign disclosures and expenditure reports.