|Robert Nacionales-Tafoya (c) Los Angeles Times|
On April 7, 2021 - Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem, Alejandra Avila stated that she wished "to hold off" on looking for a new city attorney, even though the current one, Robert Tafoya, was served search warrants by the FBI. (See video at 1:10). From the video, it's clear that Avila blocked Council Member Damian's request to find a new city attorney by asking why the city needed a new one, even though the current city attorney appears to be connected with former Council Member Ricardo Pacheco, who pled guilty to accepting over $303,000 in bribe money regarding marijuana distribution. Council Member Paul Hernandez states that he is "comfortable with the services that we're providing . . . I don't feel like we should put out an RFP [Request for Proposal]." Similarly, Council Member Monica Garcia "questioned if it was the right time for this". Garcia made the third request to put a search for a new city attorney, "on hold". Does political campaign contributions have anything to do with keeping Tafoya?
Besides the federal probe, Tafoya has been a controversial figure in Baldwin Park. Tafoya was fined with $36,000 in sanctions in the court by filing a fraudulent disability lawsuit, placing a criminal doctor on the stand that had no personal knowledge of the case, and then walking out on his client's trial entirely. Other problems have ranged from alleged excessive billing and drafting contracts that stated that a police chief could only be fired if he was convicted of a felony. Tafoya also has a money trail that can be traced back to the three council members, who support keeping him.
Does Political Campaign Contributions from Lawyers Influence City Council Votes?
From January 1, 2017 - September 19, 2020, Council Member Garcia reported
that she received $8,800 from Tafoya and his law firm. Also, Garcia
received significant contributions from those affiliated with Tafoya.
Cristeta Paguirigan-Summers gave $13,200. Cristeta is also affiliated
with Albright, Yee & Schmit, who gave $2,000. David Olivas gave
$2,000. Leal & Trejeo and Anthony Willoughby II gave Garcia $2,000.
Willoughby is currently at the center of an alleged scandal regarding
his employment and marijuana distribution licenses.
From January 1, 2018 and October 20, 2018 - Council Member Avila reported that she received $4,457.79 in campaign contribution from Robert Tafoya and his law firm. Furthermore, Avila received another $1,500 from Albright, Yee & Schmit, a firm that Tafoya frequently subcontracts.
From October 12, 2018 to June 30, 2019 - Hernandez reported that Tafoya contributed $6,000, Albright $1,000, and the Kauffman law firm $2,000. (Incidentally, Hernandez received $3,500 from CA Education Coalition PAC, which is tied to Pacheco, Michael Taylor, and marijuana money.)
Tafoya Raises Campaign Money for Council Member Garcia: Conflict of Interest?
Tafoya holds fundraising events for Council Member Monica Garcia. Email evidence confirms that Tafoya would blast attorneys for money on behalf of Garcia's campaigns. According to Tafoya, $1,000 buys you Bronze standing with Garcia. $1,500 buys one Silver standing. And Gold members require $2,500. But in a representative democracy, are we supposed to pay now to meet with our elected officials?
Furthermore, there's an appearance of a conflict of interest when Garcia votes for Tafoya - who has raised significant sums of money in the past. To ensure the appearance of integrity, Garcia should abstain from voting on any decisions regarding Tafoya.
The Harm to our Local Government and Democracy
It appears that the city council, and other governments, have forgotten their purpose, which is that they exist to serve the people. Instead, career politicians appear to exist for what they can take from the taxpayer and the advantages they receive from selling their influence in office. In the end, the citizens suffer at the expense of the few.
So the decision to keep a questionable city attorney is really a much bigger issue, because it eventually results in the oppression of the common people. For instance, the City Council decides it wants to misappropriate federal housing funds but can't do so without the approval of the city attorney. A good city attorney would object. A bad one would permit it. And people who need those funds eventually become homeless. And as discussed further below, that's what makes this entire political system unbearable and unworkable. In short, a bad city attorney promotes decisions that hurt the people.
Hence, the above problem reflects a crisis for Western democracies throughout the world. As global wealth is becoming concentrated in fewer people, these fewer people, who have been commonly called the one percent, are having greater influence over our politicians and governments. This trend is the antithesis of a democracy, which is supposed to generally result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Two U.S. Supreme Court cases have enabled this corrosion. The first one was in 1976 with Buckley v. Valeo. That case held that political spending limits violate the First Amendment and hence political spending limits on individuals are unconstitutional.
The second case, as seen here with the political action committee, is Citizens United. In Citizens United, our Court held that corporations are people and hence can spend as much as they want regarding political campaigns.
The consequences of these decisions are clearly proven in local politics here and for sure in higher levels of government. Reform is required. Amendments to our Constitution must be ratified.
Regarding Baldwin Park, Robert Tafoya in office reflects badly on the City. People in government must not only be honest, but they have to have a reputation of honesty too. As has been so often said, "Trust is the currency of government."