Lythcott-Haims waited two months after she was elected to ask state agency about speaking fees she was collecting

Julie Lythcott-Haims

This story was originally published in the print edition of the Daily Post on Wednesday, April 12. If you want to stay on top of local news, pick up the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.

By Braden Cartwright
Daily Post Staff Writer

A Palo Alto councilwoman waited two months from when she was elected to ask the Fair Political Practices Commission if she could still get paid for public speaking while in office.

The FPPC’s answer jeopardizes Councilwoman Julie Lythcott-Haims’ ability to legally work and be on council at the same time.

The FPPC told Lythcott-Haims that she had to reduce the share of her income that came from public speaking to below 50%, or she would be violating the Political Reform Act that restricts public officials from profiting off of their public service.

Lythcott-Haims, who writes books and gives talks about parenting, race and youth development, didn’t respond to questions yesterday. She read a prepared statement at Monday’s council meeting and hasn’t commented since then.

FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said that Lythcott-Haims emailed the FPPC’s legal division on Jan. 12 asking for advice.

She hired lawyer Gary Winuk, who was the FPPC’s chief of enforcement from 2009 to 2015.

How she earns a living

Winuk told the FPPC about the situation: Lythcott-Haims is an author of three books, including a New York Times bestseller, and she is paid to talk about them and write articles. Her work doesn’t have anything to do with city business, Winuk said.

Lythcott-Haims gave 37 promotional book talks and workshops over the past year, and about 85% of them were paid, Winuk said.

FPPC attorney Brian Lau told Winuk on April 7 that Lythcott-Haims had to change her ways.

“Moving forward, she will only be able to receive compensation for speeches and other public talks so long as speech making is not the predominate activity of her business,” Lau said.

“This is my job, it is my work, it is how I support my family,” said Lythcott-Haims, who has a law degree from Harvard.

Lythcott-Haims didn’t specify when she asked the FPPC for advice, except that it was “when (she) was elected.”

Plans to appeal

She said she is planning to appeal the FPPC’s decision.

All council candidates are required to file a statement of economic interests during the campaign.

Lythcott-Haims said in her filing that her business, Love Over Time LLC, was worth between $100,001 and $1 million, and paid her more than $100,000 in a year.

Four companies gave her more than $10,000: Facebook, TED, Genentech and Henry Holt and Company. Facebook paid Lythcott-Haims to write, TED paid her to speak and Henry Holt published her books, Winuk told the FPPC.


  1. Council members make laws that they expect us to follow. But it’s ironic that they can’t follow the laws that regulate their behavior. How did she get elected?

  2. Contrary to what the Councilwoman says, I don’t think it’s possible to “appeal” the FPPC’s advice. If you don’t like what they told you, your next step is to appear before the FPPC board for a formal hearing.

  3. An appeal in her favor amounts to changing the state law. No matter how worthy her reasons for accepting honorariums, an appeal for her will create a loophole for crooked politicians who are on the take. This law exists for a reason. We shouldn’t have to throw out the law just because she didn’t do her homework before entering the race. With her education (bachelor’s from Stanford, JD from Harvard) she should be able to find another job.

  4. ““This is my job, it is my work, it is how I support my family,” said Lythcott-Haims, who has a law degree from Harvard.”

    Maybe it’s time for her to return to Harvard for a refresher course to learn that legal filing deadlines matter.

  5. Does it matter that during the campaign her marketing and social media and blogs blended both the campaign and her work. For at least one talk at a palo alto private school the flyers stated City Council Candidate and there was a table outside the talk (for which she probably was not paid, but probably sold books) with signs, buttons and her little white chairs. She definitely leveraged the celebrity elements of her job to garner votes.

  6. On the other hand, past city councils have had real estate lawyers and others working for developers who more clearly appear to have a material interest in policies and decisions made by city council.

  7. What I remember is that in the 2012 Palo Alto city council election season, after an anonymous complaint was filed against councilmember Karen Holman and amplified by political opponents on the dais, the FPPC ruled five weeks later that there was no violation.

    I also recall that four years later an anonymous complaint was filed against councilmember Liz Kniss shortly after her reelection, and somehow the FPPC decision -– this time, of violation — was not rendered for 4 years and after her term had expired.

    As I read the regulations, Julie Lythcott-Haims filed a written request for an FPPC ruling on her situation and is entitled to an appeal. In that effort, she has engaged Gary Winuk, former chief of the enforcement division at the FPPC, who represented Kniss in her case. Hopefully, this time around, a swift hearing and judgment based on merits is the goal and not another attempt to run out the clock.

    • Excellent example of Whataboutism!

      Holman was caught taking “finder’s fees” from a developer who had a project before the city.

  8. Is there anything not understood in the words “the FPPC ruled that there was no violation?”

    Will there be a comparative example to a “less significant” violation to minimize the FPPC’s decision if the current appeal is not successful?

  9. Who said anything about a law violation by Holman? I never said that. You’re putting words in my mouth. The payments she got from the developer were reported on her financial interest forms and she disclosed them at a council meeting. Nobody is saying she broke the law. But you’ve got to admit that it was shocking to learn that the leader of the NIMBYs was working for a developer. It revealed to us average joe’s how corrupt the NIMBY movement had become in Palo Alto. And the fact you’re still defending her says volumes.

  10. Gutting the honorarium prohibition, which has served our state for three decades, is a bad idea for a council woman who thinks she’s entitled to an exception. She should have checked with the FPPC before she decided to run. Now she has to ask for a loophole that will allow crooked politicians to take bribes all over the state. The FPPC needs to go by the letter of the law, not what somebody thinks is the spirit of the law.

  11. While I understand and appreciate Julie’s expertise and success as an author and speaker, it’s important to acknowledge that the rules governing political office were put in place for a reason. The Political Reform Act was designed to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest that can arise when elected officials are paid for their public appearances.

    The advice from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) clearly states that Lythcott-Haims can continue to receive compensation for writing books and articles, but she must limit her income from speaking engagements to less than 50% of her business income. This is a reasonable compromise that allows her to maintain her professional pursuits while serving the public.

    The issue at hand is not whether talented and knowledgeable individuals should be prevented from holding public office. Rather, it is about ensuring that our elected officials can fully commit to their public responsibilities without financial conflicts of interest. The rules are in place to protect the integrity of the political process and to ensure that all elected officials are held to the same standard.

    As someone who loves this city, I believe it is crucial to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability in our local government. This means adhering to the rules and regulations that have been established for the greater good. While it may be challenging for Lythcott-Haims to adjust her professional endeavors, it is a necessary sacrifice for those who choose to serve their community in a political capacity.

    By following the FPPC’s guidance, we can ensure that our city is represented by dedicated individuals who are committed to putting the public interest first.

  12. She claims this law is an attack on her ability to earn a living for her family. No it isn’t. The law existed years before she decided to run. She didn’t do her due diligence and find out about this restriction before running. Now that she knows, it’s everybody else’s fault. If you disagree with her, according to her latest newsletter, you’re a “hater.”

    She’s written a book about being an adult. I haven’t read it, but I wonder if she writes about how adults should take responsibility for their actions.

  13. Julie’s newsletter has a number of talking points she is giving her supporters to counter public criticism of her acceptance of honorariums. Her points are in quotes and my critique follows.

    1. “Julie did the right thing and sought legal advice before running for office.” How do we know if she obtained legal advice before running since she is refusing to discuss it claiming, incorrectly, that lawyer-client privilege applies? The only fact we know is that the FPPC received an email from Julie on January 12. The email wasn’t from her lawyer, which makes me wonder if she had actually hired legal council on January 12. Anyway, January 12 is well after the election.

    2. “The regulation wasn’t meant to cover people whose legitimate business includes public speaking.” The law, Section 89503(a), doesn’t say that.

    3. “Why would a speech she gives on parenting, race, or youth development in places like Minneapolis, Nashville, or Boston be considered a conflict with her work for the city?” Why? A developer trying to buy her vote might decide to pay her a fat fee to give a speech to the Bermuda Toastmasters Club.

    4. “The regulation was meant to limit the extent to which people earn honoraria ‘in the jurisdiction’ in which they serve, and Julie doesn’t take money for speeches given in Palo Alto.” The law doesn’t have geographical restrictions, so this doesn’t matter.

  14. If JLH “did the right thing” by getting legal advice before running, why didn’t she follow that legal advice? Now she’s trying to figure out how to keep both of her jobs (council and DEI speeches) and it’s led to this controversy. Doing the “right thing” would have been settling this matter before hand rather than embroiling the city in another embarrassing mess.

  15. Yesterday’s Daily Post article on this quotes her calling those who expect her to follow the rules “haters” which is the height if arrogance, especially since this article claims she intended to make this a “test case” for “thought leaders” like her BEFORE she decided to run knowing she could be found guilty of violating the rukles.

    Think of all the time, money and effort wasted by all the campaigns and volunteers in the last election.

    What contempt for the electoral process, the voters and her opponent AND her own backers.

    (Please put that article online.)

  16. I am proud to have Julie represent me on the Palo Alto City Council. The ethics rule at issue here was not intended to apply to situations like this, where an elected official has a long-standing career based on giving speeches. I hope that the ethics agency will make a reasonable exception for this kind of situation.

  17. Adam says the ethic rule (sic, actually it’s a law) was not intended to apply to situations like this. Where do you get that Adam? Where is it written in the law?

    You want the FPPC to make an exception for her. Where is that allowed under this law?

    Were the voters of California wrong when they passed this law because they didn’t create a loophole of Lythcott-Haims?

    It’s not fair to make up things and say they’re in a law when they simply don’t exist.

    Lythcott-Haimes is a Harvard-educated lawyer who can’t claim ignorance of the law. She should have checked on this before she ran. There’s no evidence that she did.

    Anyway, she’s a nothingburger when it comes to serving on council. She’s had a year already and can’t point to any accomplishments other than making ignorant public statements.

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