A group of L.A. city councilmembers on Tuesday proposed banning contributions to council campaigns from developers with projects currently or recently before the city.

The motion introduced by Councilmembers David Ryu, Joe Buscaino and Paul Krekorian also would consider whether to expand the city’s definition of developer to include building contractors and subcontractors and whether to increase the enforcement staff at the city Ethics Commission to ensure more frequent audits and inspections.

With council approval of the motion on Tuesday, it’s now up to the Ethics Commission and other city staff to craft implementing ordinances to bring back to the Council in coming months.

The motion comes after two major Los Angeles Times investigatory articles detailing contributions from developers to city council campaigns, including most recently mall developer Rick Caruso, whose proposed 20-story residential tower near the Beverly Center is now before the City Council.

“The best way to restore trust in government is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict,” Councilmember Ryu said in a statement. “By introducing sweeping reforms, we will work to restore Angelenos’ faith in the city’s ability to fairly review and approve major development projects. We need a campaign finance system that limits the influence of big-pocketed developers, and instead empowers thousands of small donors to have their voices heard.”

Ryu ran for council two years ago on a platform of not accepting contributions from developers.

Business groups viewed the developer ban as a mixed bag.

Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said that while a developer contribution ban probably wouldn’t make it harder to get projects approved, it sends a bad message.

“It portrays business contributions as bad,” Toebben said. “Tell that to the campaign chairs who raised millions in contributions for Measure M (the transportation sales tax increase) from businesses and to the many businesses who contributed to Measure HHH (to sell bonds for homeless housing projects).”

But news of the proposed ban on developer contributions was welcomed by proponents of Measure S, the “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative” on the March 7 ballot.

“The motion by several City Council members this morning is nothing short of a guilty plea about City Hall’s corrupt backroom deals to help developers continually ignore our zoning laws and build as big and as tall as they wish,” Measure S campaign director Jill Stewart said in a statement.

Yet Stewart called the reforms only a “quarter loaf.” In the same statement, she called for a ban on developers contributing money to lobbyists among other things.

Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.

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