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LA City Council moves forward with campaign finance reform recommendations

The Los Angeles City Council agreed today to revise the city's matching funds program, though questions remain on the details.
The Los Angeles City Council agreed today to revise the city's matching funds program, though questions remain on the details.
Tracy O./Flickr Creative Commons

A proposal to change how the City of Los Angeles provides public dollars to candidates for their political campaigns could give more power to small-time donors.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 13-0 Wednesday to ask the City Attorney for a draft ordinance that would implement a host of campaign finance reforms. They include a provision that would provide $2 in public funds for every qualified dollar a candidate receives in the primary. The match would increase to $4 per qualified dollar in the general election.

The city would match the first $250 for city council candidates and the first $500 for citywide candidates.

Under current rules the city matches, dollar-for-dollar, the first $250 of an individual’s contribution to a qualifying candidate. A total of $100,000 is available to a candidate in the primary and $150,000 in the general. The city currently has $12 million in its matching funds account, which comes from the general fund. 

“People think that their little donations don’t help," said Robin Gilbert with the California Clean Money Campaign. "This is a way to make the small donor feel like they have a say in what’s going on in campaigns and in the elections.” 

Prior to the vote, Councilman José Huizar requested a report on increasing the matching return to 4:1 for both the primary and general elections in 2015. Councilman Mitch Englander also asked Ethics Commission staff to consider requiring candidates to collect 1,000 signatures before they get the 2:1 matching rate. 

A recommendation to match only those funds from Los Angeles city residents was also adopted by the council, though some members hope to expand that provision to county residents. Right now, contributions are matchable regardless of where a donor lives.

Other provisions of the ordinance include:

Councilman Paul Krekorian noted that the revised regulations do nothing to help candidates who are opposed by lucrative independent expenditure campaigns.

“The elephant in the room here is independent expenditure campaigns continue to, in my view, poison the democratic process and more so since Citizens United,” said Krekorian, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimted donations by coprporations and political action committees.  

The new matching funds rules need to be in place by Nov. 5 for the Spring 2013 election.