West Covina amends campaign finance rules

While public comments range from citizens expressing their concerns to absurd bigoted tirades, a new dynamic within city hall emerges


Ruben Montoya

Council members and West Covina city staff gather in the minutes prior to the Jan. 17 meeting.

The West Covina City Council convened this Tuesday at the City Hall for its first meeting of the new year. This nearly four hours long meeting showcased the new dynamic within the five-seat council.

The council discussed and voted on an important proposal, City Ordinance No. 2510, an ordinance to amend West Covina’s campaign finance regulations. This ordinance would raise the campaign contribution limit from $615 to $650. However, the most crucial aspect of this ordinance would be the application of the $650 limit to contributions made to Political Action Committees (PACs), which previously only applied to individual campaign contributions.

As described by City Attorney Thomas Duarte, Ordinance No. 2510 is a “minor amendment” to the city’s rules on campaign finance and follows similar guidelines set by other local cities such as Baldwin Park.

Supporters of the ordinance argued that it would limit the influence of outside entities from tampering with West Covina’s politics.

Critics of the ordinance said that the bill is an attempt to single out local PACs in response to their impact on the hotly contested 2022 election season.

West Covina resident Steve Bennett gave his input in a comment on Facebook: “This limit on donations to PACs is Tony (Wu)’s attempt to prevent opposition to him and his ‘leadership.’ He hated the fact that the Teamsters and John (Shewmaker) attacked him under a PAC. But this would not prevent the Teamsters. Only people like John and other local, small PACs that actually have influence in this city.”

Ordinance No. 2510 will indeed have no impact on independent expenditure-only committees, commonly referred to as “super PACs,” and will impede the efforts by local residents seeking to organize through small, locally focused PACs.

Addressing the opposition’s concerns that the ordinance will impede free speech, Councilman Wu reaffirmed his intention for the bill as a way to combat outside influence in West Covina’s politics and pushed back against the claims that the bill was an attempt to silence his critics.

After questions and comments on the ordinance from Mayor Pro Tem Brian Tabatabai and Councilman Ollie Cantos, Wu asked Duarte to address his critics’ claims.

“Again I just want to emphasize, any people wanting to do the PAC and donate to themselves, they could still do it?” Wu said.

“Yes, that’s correct,” Duarte responded.

“Okay, so we didn’t change anything, we’re only changing the PAC, the donations to them, to $650,” Wu said.

“It was a minor amendment,” Duarte said.

Wu then motioned to vote on the bill, which was then seconded by Mayor Rosario Diaz.

Ordinance No. 2510 was passed by a vote of 3-1-1. Council members Wu and Letty Lopez-Viado, as well as Diaz, voted yes on the ordinance. Tabatabai voted no and Cantos voted to abstain.

Following his no vote, Tabatabai elaborated on his position, “My main issue was that it didn’t solve the problem,” he said.

“In practice, as the City Attorney just said, you could loan the committee, and that loan, you don’t know who loaned it, so the expenditure could be $104 million still and you didn’t really fix anything,” said Tabatabai, alluding to the 2022 Los Angeles Mayoral Candidate Rick Caruso who spent $104 million of his personal money on his campaign.

Tabatabai then used the example of independently wealthy people entering the political arena with their own money through super PACs to showcase why the ordinance will have minimal effect in addressing the problems it was meant to fix.

“All you really did though, was you send a message to the residents that, you know what, ‘this last election I didn’t like what happened, so I’m going to punish you,’ you had the resident Jim Grivich saying, ‘I donated $4000 to this committee to stop Tax WC, well now this isn’t going to allow me to do that’, he’s still going to be able to do it, but he’s going to have to do it in a way that isn’t as transparent,” Tabatabai said.

Cantos, who voted present on Ordinance No. 2510, explained where he stands on the issue and why he made the decision to abstain.

“I want everyone to have an equal opportunity and I don’t want anyone to be adversely affected, even by a well intended ordinance,” Cantos said. “It’s well intended, which is why I didn’t vote no, and I support the concept but I wanted to look at it more, in its current form I couldn’t support it.”

Aside from the politics, Rosa Rios, the mother of Gabriela De Haro Perez, who was murdered at the intersection of Amar Road and Azusa Avenue on Jan. 2, 2021, urged the City Council to take action and demand the West Covina Police Department to conduct a press conference to find those responsible and achieve justice for her daughter during public comments.

“My question to you guys is why isn’t she worthy, is she not a priority, is she not urgent enough?” Rios said. “I know that there was a press release for the reward, thank you for that, but some of us, like me, wake up with the news, I go to sleep with the news, the news is a lot more powerful than social media.”

“I know you guys are going to reach a lot more residents if you get on the news,” she continued.

“I know the Police Department completely turned their backs on us, they said no, they didn’t want any part of it, at least they were honest about it, they told them no, but I asked you guys for your support to help us bring justice to her even if they are not caught, but at least you did something for your community,” Rios concluded.

Council members Wu and Lopez-Viado both expressed their condolences and assured Rios that they were working behind the scenes to arrange a press conference in an effort to bring justice to her late daughter.

The issue on achieving justice for Perez would come up again later in the meeting when the West Covina Police Department Detective Bureau gave a presentation before the City Council, in which they stated they were in “100% support” of holding a press conference, but noting that the final decision to do so would ultimately be left to the family and not the department.

As those inside West Covina City Hall Tuesday partook in the Pledge of Allegiance, known provocateurs Mike Greenspan (left) and Armando Herman (right) hold up a Confederate flag. (Ruben Montoya)

As those inside West Covina City Hall Tuesday partook in the Pledge of Allegiance, known provocateurs Mike Greenspan (left) and Armando Herman (right) hold up a Confederate flag.

Earlier in the meeting, notorious disrupters Armando Herman and Mike Greenspan made a return to the West Covina City Hall. As the City Council convened and opened up the meeting with the pledge of allegiance, Herman and Greenspan together held up a Confederate flag, which prompted a brief and heated exchange between the two agitators and those in attendance who took issue with their display.

Herman and Greenspan later took to the podium during public comment, as they both took advantage of their time to spew a barrage of racial and homophobic slurs. Greenspan notably used antisemitic slurs in his bizarre rant in front of the council.

Other speakers during public comment included John Shewmaker, whose daughter Jessica is a former West Covina council member for District 3. Jessica Shewmaker lost her seat in the 2020 election to the incumbent, Diaz, and ever since, her father and Diaz’s husband, William Elliott, have publicly feuded.

Shewmaker first voiced his concerns on Ordinance No. 2510, as he compared the actions of Wu to authoritarians such as Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Maduro. He then concluded his comment by announcing his campaign for City Council District 3, the seat currently occupied by Mayor Diaz, and handed his Candidate Intention Statement Form 501 to Assistant City Clerk Lisa Sherrick.

“You can’t stop me from spending my money,” Shewmaker said.

The next meeting of the West Covina City Council is scheduled for Feb. 7, and it remains to be seen to what extent the new dynamic will have an impact on enacting policy decisions.