The Levine Act’s Reach is Broadened by Recent Amendments

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The Levine Act’s Reach is Broadened by Recent Amendments

July 12, 2023

Q: One of our school board members has recently asked how changes to the Levine Act impact the board. Does this law apply to local public agencies?

Answer: The Levine Act has applied to some California public agencies for decades, but it was recently amended to apply to school boards, county boards of supervisions, city councils and other agencies whose members are elected directly by the voters.

The Levine Act, named after its author Assemblymember Mel Levine, is a section of the California Political Reform Act (PRA) that restricts campaign contributions made to officers of most state and local agencies by parties to a proceeding pending before those agencies. Enacted in 1982, the Levine Act was a response to reports that members of a state agency sought to raise money from individuals and entities that had permit requests pending before the agency.

The Levine Act is narrowly drafted to apply only to proceedings involving licenses, permits, or other entitlements for use. It provides that while a proceeding involving a license, permit, or other entitlement for use is pending, and for 12 months following the date a final decision is rendered in the proceeding, an officer of an agency before which that proceeding is pending shall not accept, solicit, or direct a contribution of more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) from any party or a party’s agent, or from any participant or a participant’s agent if the officer knows or has reason to know that the participant has a financial interest in the proceeding. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the officer accepts, solicits, or directs the contribution on the officer’s own behalf, on behalf of any other officer, on behalf of any candidate for office, or on behalf of any committee. Furthermore, prior to rendering any decision in a proceeding involving a license, permit, or other entitlement for use pending before an agency, each officer of the agency who received a contribution of more than $250 within the preceding 12 months from a party or from any participant must disclose that fact on the record of the proceeding.

Until recently, the Levine Act applied only to decisions made by agencies with membership that is NOT directly elected by voters; it generally did not apply to local governmental bodies whose members ARE elected directly by the voters. SB 1439 (Chapter 848, Statutes of 2022) significantly broadened the reach of the Levine Act by making it applicable to local agencies whose members are directly elected by the voters. As a result, beginning January 1, 2023, the restrictions of the Levine Act apply to every county board of supervisors, city council, and school board in the state, along with special districts that are not already subject to the law. The Levine Act does not, however, apply to require recusal of board members in 2023 for prohibited contributions received and proceedings conducted in 2022 before those members were subject to the law.

The Levine Act is enforced by the California Fair Political Practices Commission as well as the Attorney General and local prosecutors. Public officials who are found to have knowingly or willfully violated the law may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to the greater of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or three times the amount the person failed to report properly or unlawfully contributed, expended, gave or received may be imposed upon conviction for each violation.

Keenan is not a law firm and no opinion, suggestion, or recommendation of the firm or its employees shall constitute legal advice. Clients are advised to consult with their own attorney for a determination of their legal rights, responsibilities, and liabilities, including the interpretation of any statute or regulation, or its application to the clients’ business activities.