“It may ‘smell bad,’ but Long Beach mayor’s deal-making doesn’t break the law, experts say”

Long Beach Press Telegram:

Legal scholars say even if Fox or another candidate dropped out of the race because of a deal struck, it would have been within the law.

“You may think possibly this smells bad,” said Daniel Hays Lowenstein, a retired UCLA law professor who specialized in election law. “And it may smell bad, but even if it does, it doesn’t make it a violation of the statute. “

The statute in question is an 1893 state law that prohibits the advancing, paying or soliciting money or any “valuable consideration” to stay out of or withdraw from a political race.

The law has rarely been tested by top prosecutors, many of whom are elected to their position, he said.

Lowenstein was the attorney for then Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler, one of the few cases where he said prosecutors invoked the law.

Fiedler was indicted by a Los Angeles County grand jury in 1986 on a charge of offering $100,000 to an opponent to withdraw from the Republican primary. The judge in the case eventually dismissed the charges, finding the law vague and the evidence insufficient. It was not appealed.

Lowenstein said, if Garcia had offered a political position in exchange for Fox or another candidate dropping out of the race, that would be a tougher call but would still not likely not rise to the standard of “valuable consideration.”

“That, I think, is a harder question,” he said, but “I think it would come down the same way.”

Fox owns more than a dozen rental properties in Long Beach, and could lose money from a rent control law. He might even see a benefit from further discussion of the city’s Land Use Element, which establishes parameters for the types of development allowed across the city through 2040.

But Lowenstein said that even if Fox benefited from Garcia’s stance, it would be a political gain, not a personal one. In other words, Fox can’t bank money on Garcia’s position and he wouldn’t gain anything new that he values.

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