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Committee debates campaign finance reforms for City of LA elections

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Should L.A. City Council candidates receive matching funds only for donations made by city residents, or should they apply to gifts from anyone who lives in the county? 

The idea to widen the pool was floated today by the City Council's Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. Its members want to be less restrictive than the plan put forth by the city's Ethics Commission, which would match donations only from city residents.

Councilman Herb Wesson pointed to his own experience as an example of why the plan should be modified.

“I lived in Culver City, a half a block from Los Angeles. I was very involved in Los Angeles politics and government, more so than ... Culver City,” Wesson said.

Staff members from the Ethics Commission and California Clean Money Campaign believe the restriction on matching funds would empower city residents. Currently, all donations made to candidates who opt into the matching funds program are eligible to be matched, regardless of where the donor resides. The matching funds come from public tax dollars. A study by Common Cause found 40 percent of donations made so far to the 2013 mayoral candidates have come from outside city limits.

The Ethics Commission has cited the 2001 and 2003 municipal elections, when about 10 percent of city council candidates received 200 or more contributions from residents in their districts. The Ethics Commission and Rules Committee have both signed off on a recommendation that city council candidates must receive 200 donations of $5 or more from within their district to be eligible for matching funds.

Councilman Jose Huizar noted that the recommendations should actually make a difference in elections, and not just serve as obstacles for candidates. 

“As a candidate, I’ll be honest with you, some things we do as candidates—Oh, there’s a rule? OK, well let’s see how we can comply with the rule—but it doesn’t really change anything,” Huizar said. “We sometimes feel like we have these rules that don’t really do anything.”

The Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee did approve some recommendations, including:

  • Elected officials must establish separate social media accounts for their political campaigns
  • Candidates will have 12 months, instead of nine, to pay off campaign debt
  • Independent expenditure communications must be reported within 24 hours between candidate filings and the election 

The Ethics Commission’s proposal will go before City Council on Wednesday, when the debate over matching funds will continue. 

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