Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Insider tip: How to lift the ceiling on Los Angeles' mayor's race spending limits

Demon Sheep ad

Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate campaign 2010

Demon Sheep ad produced by Fred Davis' company Strategic Perception Inc. for the 2010 Carly Fiorina U.S. Senate campaign.

Los Angeles voters long ago installed contribution and spending limits in city elections. But those spending limits can be wiped out when a big-spending political action committee announces it's getting into the campaign.

Republican political strategist Fred Davis announced this week that he's formed a committee, Better Way LA, to raise $4 million to spend on behalf of  mayoral candidate Kevin James.

Davis, creator of some of the GOP's most-noticed commercials — including the 2010 Demon Sheep ad for U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina  — said he's doing it to put the James campaign on equal footing with other candidates.

Indpendent spending like Davis' is legal and unlimited, and it can affect what other candidates may spend in the mayor's race. Here's how that works:

So far, James and three better-funded candidates — council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, and City Controller Wendy Greuel — have agreed to abide by spending limits in the primary. In exchange, they can get up to $667,000 in city matching funds.

But as soon as independent groups — alone or combined — spend $309,000 for or against a single candidate, the city lifts the spending limits on all candidates in the mayor's race. And they can keep the matching funds.

This sort of indie spending isn't new in LA elections. It totals about $16 million since 2001, according to records of the City Ethics Commission. In the last open race for mayor in 2005, independent committees spent nearly $3.7 million. Those dollars came mostly from unions, but also from business, environmental and partisan political groups.

Meanwhile, the city limits on direct contributions to candidates remain capped at $1,300 per donor.

Anybody who wants to spend more will have to create their own independent expenditure committee, or give to one like Fred Davis' Better Way LA.


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Villaraigosa says Riordan plan for city worker pensions "may cost more"

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Jerod Harris/Getty Images for BGR

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has "concerns" about the city employee pension put forward by former mayor Richard Riordan.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement Wednesday expressing reservations about a pension reform plan from one of his predecessors, former Mayor Richard Riordan.

"I have concerns that Mayor Riordan's pension plan may cost more money than the current system and hinder our efforts to recruit the best for our police department."

Under Riordan's plan, new city workers would be placed in private 401(k)-style pension plans.  Villaraigosa worries aspiring police officers would be less interested in working at the L.A.P.D. and instead go to cities that continue to offer defined pension packages.

Riordan's plan - staunchly oppposed by city labor unions - would also require current city workers to contribute more of their salaries to the pension fund, and would freeze city contributions during bad economic times.  The former Republican mayor argues the city faces bankruptcy if voters fail to approve his plan.  He hopes to collect enough signatures by Dec. 7 to place it on the May ballot.

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Los Angeles City Council schedules special election for May

Los Angeles City Hall

Alice Walton/KPCC

A special election for the Los Angeles City Council's next Sixth District rep will be held on May 21, 2013 at a cost of $400,000.

A special election to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Los Angeles City Council is set for May 21, 2013.

The L.A. City Council voted 12-0 to hold an election that day to fill the vacancy that will be left when Councilman Tony Cardenas is sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3. A runoff election is scheduled for July 23. 

It will cost $400,000 to hold the special election. It could have cost more than a $1 million if the primary were not held the same day as the city’s municipal election runoff.

The city council could have voted to appoint a new council member to serve the remainder of Cardenas’ term, through June 30, 2015. However, the L.A. City Council has not chosen that option since the 1960s when John Ferraro was appointed to the council. With this election, it means there will be seven new members of the Los Angeles City Council next year.

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Maven's Morning Coffee: LAFD response plans, DWP in Owens Valley, taxes for downtown streetcar

LAFD

Jondoeforty1/Flickr

The Los Angeles Fire Department is looking at plans to send firefighters and paramedics to emergencies before fulling understanding the nature of 911 calls. Doing so could speed up response times by 50 seconds.

Good morning, readers. Welcome to the Maven's Morning Coffee -- a listing of the important headlines, news conferences, public meetings and announcements you need to know to fuel up and tackle your day.

The Maven's Morning Coffee is also available as a daily email. Click here to subscribe.

Today is Wednesday, Nov. 21, and here is what's happening in Los Angeles:

Headlines

The Los Angeles Fire Department is looking at a strategy for speeding up response times -- sending firefighters and paramedics to emergencies before fully determining the nature of a 911 call, according to the Los Angeles Times. The "quick launch" program, which reduced response times by 50 seconds, was discontinued in 2006 because it required too many resources.

A member of SEIU Local 721 was disciplined Tuesday for encouraging members to sign fake names and addresses to former Mayor Richard Riordan's petition to dramatically change the city's retirement system, reports the Daily News. "SEIU Local 721 in no way recommends that its members or anyone else falsify signatures. We are against that kind of behavior," a spokesman told the newspaper.

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Cities aim to recoup $30 million in fees from Los Angeles County

Monday’s state Supreme Court ruling that Los Angeles County overcharged municipalities for administrative services could mean a modest but important boost for strapped city budgets.

"It’s all very important and this money’s going to go right back to city general funds that pay for police and fire and other important local services," said Chris McKenzie of the League of California Cities.

Counties manage property tax collection for cities and charge them a fee for the service.  After California’s state legislature enacted a couple of complex tax swaps to plug a budget hole, counties began managing more property tax dollars for cities.

McKenzie said the counties were supposed to provide the service at cost. 

"Apparently L.A. County and other counties that followed the guidelines were charging in excess of their actual cost."

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