ORANGE COUNTY, CA-The City of Orange has filed a lawsuit against a group that supports converting the El Toro Marine Base into a commercial airport, ratcheting the debate over the shuttered base’s future up yet another notch.

According to the new lawsuit, the pro-conversion Airport Working Group Political Action Committee spent more money on last November’s Orange City Council election than local law allows. The suit also names some of the PAC’s top members as individual defendants.

The PAC’s own report shows that it spent about 80% of its budget on last fall’s election, mostly to support the campaigns of pro-airport candidates. The city says the group could legally spend no more than 25% of its funds, and is seeking $168,000 from the PAC and some of its contributors.

One of the PAC-supported candidates won last autumn, but another lost to an anti-airport candidate. In a related run-off last month, a second candidate the group supported was beaten easily by Carolyn Cavecche-another airport foe who was attacked in mailers that were partially funded by the PAC.

City officials insist the lawsuit wasn’t filed to punish the PAC for failing to support the two anti-airport candidates who eventually won. Instead, says Orange City Attorney David DeBerry, the local government needed to file the suit in order to enforce the law.

When the PAC spent more than 25% of its budget on last November’s City Council race, the lawsuit says, the group automatically lost its independent status and therefore its individual contributors were limited to making a maximum of $500 in contributions. Three individual contributors named in the lawsuit each spent $5,000 or more, the suit claims.

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