Legal squabbling marks campaign over proposed rent controls

LOS ANGELES (AP) — State regulators are investigating a claim by supporters of a ballot proposal to let cities expand rent control that opponents have accepted improper campaign donations.

The allegations will be reviewed by the enforcement division of the Fair Political Practices Commission, which said it had made no decision about the validity of the claims.

It wasn’t clear when a decision would be reached.

The Yes on 21 committee alleged that in several dozen cases property owners and landlords attempted to conceal the source of donations given to a rival committee attempting to defeat the proposal.

Chris Skinnell, a lawyer for No on 21, Californians for Responsible Housing, called the claims “silly.”

The filing represents the latest in an ongoing squabble between the two sides over campaign rules.

Proposition 21 aims to reduce the impact of a more than two-decade-old state law that says new rent control policies don’t apply to properties built since 1995.

The proposition is supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the state Democratic Party. It is opposed by the California Apartment Association, California Republican Party and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said the measure “runs the all-too-real risk of discouraging availability of affordable housing” and that the law he signed last year already caps rent.

The 43 donations at issue represent a tiny sliver of the money pouring into the race. Supporters of the measure raised about $24 million by late September, while opponents raised about $54 million, according to state campaign contribution data.

The complaint pointed to donations from differently named groups that had identical addresses or other common information. The complaint said those listings represented an attempt to “obscure the true source of money” from the public.

The facts of the case have not yet been established by the agency.

Skinnell, the lawyer for the No campaign, said the Yes side was misconstruing what could be common accounting practices. “The fact that they had the same address doesn’t mean anything,” he said.

The Yes committee had also made campaign finance allegations against a separate committee, No on Prop 21, Californians to Protect Affordable Housing. The agency found insufficient evidence to open an investigation.

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