Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/01/2010 02:58:28 PM PST

District Attorney Michael A. Ramos called for tighter regulation of political action committees as a way to combat corruption, but some county supervisors questioned whether they have the authority.

Supervisor Neil Derry said local governments cannot impose tighter restrictions on state-regulated PACs. He said a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to place limits on how much corporations and unions can directly give to city elections has prompted the cities of San Diego and Los Angeles to lift contribution limits in their cities.

“Ever since that Supreme Court decision, the counties are throwing them out,” Derry said.

But Ramos believes local jurisdictions do have some teeth.

“PACs are administrated by the state but that does not mean the county can’t tighten up its rules on PACs,” said Ramos. “If I’m wrong, then I’ll go lobby state legislators. I think we can tighten up the transparency of these PACs.”

Roman Porter, spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said a law passed in 2000 set campaign contribution limits at the state level but left local jurisdictions to decide for themselves what their limits should be.

It’s up to local governments to set their own limits.

“If locals want to, they can adopt stricter ordinances than what we have, but they have to be at least as strict as ours,” Porter said. “There’s some communities that have lower contribution limits.”

He said that extends to PACs.

Derry believes the law applies only to individuals, not PACs.

“If San Bernardino County wanted to put in a silly law saying you can only give a candidate $1,000, we could do that, but the money would just get funneled into political action committees,” Derry said.

Ramos said the issue is one he intends to research.

He believes top county officials used PACs to receive $400,000 in bribes from a developer in 2007.

Ramos’ proposal for sweeping governmental reforms comes amid a broadening corruption investigation by his office and that of the state Attorney General’s Office. Six people have been arrested and charged in connection with alleged malfeasance at the Assessor’s Office and a questionable $102 million legal settlement between the county and Rancho Cucamonga-based developer Colonies Partners LP.

The settlement ended a contentious four-year legal battle over flood control easements at the 434 acre Colonies Crossroads residential and commercial development in Upland.

Prosecutors allege former Assessor Bill Postmus, who was chairman of the Board of Supervisors at the time of the settlement, Supervisor Paul Biane, Mark Kirk, who is chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt, and former assistant assessor Jim Erwin each accepted $100,000 bribes from Colonies co-managing partner Jeff Burum for helping shepherd the settlement favoring Colonies Partners.

The alleged bribes were funneled through PACs, prosecutors said.

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