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Elk Grove City Attorney, Clerk Scoff at Citizens Conerns over Hume's Ballot Statement

Cochran, Lindgren approve public official's endorsement on ballot statement, dismissive of concerns; ignoring ethical considerations?

Elk Grove City Attorney Susan Cochran issued an opinion late Friday afternoon that dismissed concerns expressed by Elk Grove citizens over the ballot statement of incumbent Elk Grove City Council Member Pat Hume's that uses an endorsement from an official an agency that the City of Elk Grove directly funds.

Joining Cochran in the opinion was interim Elk Grove City Clerk Jason Lindgren who gave a green light to Council Member Pat Hume’s use of Tim Moran's endorsement of his candidacy. Moran, who is President of Methodist Hospital in Sacramento, is also the chairman of the Elk Grove Economic Development Corporation (EFEDC) which received a $750,000 five year grant from the city in February, 2008.

Cochran and Lindgren’s opinion was issued after several citizens enquired with the Sacramento County Board of Elections to determine if Moran’s ballot statement endorsement of Hume was appropriate. Brad Buyse of the county elections board referred the matter to Cochran and Lindgren.

In the joint statement, Cochran said that Lindgren had determined that Moran’s statement was factual and not misleading.

The statement said “Mr. Lindgren is mindful of Elections Code section 13313(b)(2), which provides that a writ or injunction shall be issued only upon the presentation of clear and convincing proof that the challenged content is false, misleading, or inconsistent with the requirements of the Election Code AND that issuance of the writ or injunction will not substantially interfere with the printing or distribution of the election materials."

“With this standard in mind, Mr. Lindgren has determined that the content in question, a quote by Mr. Tim Moran, does not fall within the type of content outlined in section 13313(b)(2). In specific, the use of the quote by Mr. Hume was authorized in writing and signed by Mr. Moran; that authorization is on file with the Office of the City Clerk. The quote is permission granted by Mr. Moran, and is not stated as an endorsement by the Elk Grove Economic Development Corporation. Mr. Moran is factually the Chair of the Elk Grove Economic Development Corporation. The Elk Grove Economic Development Corporation is not a partisan political organization. Therefore, Mr. Lindgren has determined that no further restrictions exist to preclude the inclusion of this information in a Candidate Statement.”

Although Cochran narrowly tailored Lindren’s opinion permitting Hume’s use of Moran’s endorsement on a factual basis that only address whether Moran submitted a factual statement (there seems to be no disagreement on that matter), there is a substantial body of case law and legal opinions that cast doubt on Moran’s endorsement.

Most notably is the case of Stanson v. Mott.

In this case the California Supreme Court decided in 1976 that the government may not use public funds  in partisan matters. According to the California State Attorney General Office ethics orientation for elected officials, private funds cannot be used for a partisan position in an election campaign.
“In Stanson v. Mott, a private citizen sued the Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, challenging the director’s expenditure of Department funds to support passage of a bond act appearing on a statewide ballot. The Supreme Court unanimously found that the director had acted unlawfully, concluding that “in the absence of clear and explicit legislative authorization, a public agency may not expend public funds to promote a partisan position in an election campaign.”
While Moran’s endorsement of Hume does not explicitly use public funds for a particular position, Moran is in an agency funded largely by the City of Elk Grove and whose key title is being used to endorse a candidate, an incumbent candidate no less who has appointment power with the EGEDC agency, is using a publicly funded agency as an endorsement tool.

If nothing else, Hume's use of Moran's endorsement, according to AG ethics guidelines for elected officials guidelines, is pushing the envelope.

While Cochran, Lindgren, Hume and Moran may have satisfied themselves they are operating within the letter of the law, the State Supreme Court said it best in Stanson when they unanimously stated:
“A fundamental precept of this nation’s democratic electoral process is that the government may not ‘take sides’ in election contests or bestow an unfair advantage on one of several competing factions. A principal danger feared by our country’s founders lay in the possibility that the holders of governmental authority would use official power improperly to perpetuate themselves, or their allies, in office....”
If Hume isn't using Moran to "perpetuate" himself, what or who is?

If nothing else, this fantastic four have contributed greatly to the public’s often justified cynicism regarding government, politicians and the quickly deteriorating reputation of the City of Elk Grove. On certain level, that unfortunately is what the four of them may want to achieve. 

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