Money in politics — and proposals for diluting its influence — was a dominant theme during a standing-room-only forum in Torrance on Saturday featuring the large field of candidates to succeed longtime Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).
"Get the money out of Congress," attorney Barbara Mulvaney said in response to a question about how she would address the nation's income disparity.
Members of Congress who take money from special interests won't enact policies that would hurt those interests, Mulvaney said. Citizens can do something about it, she continued: "You can vote for candidates who are not spending more than $200,000" on their campaigns, thus reducing the reach of wealthy interest groups and corporations.
Mulvaney is not among the six candidates in the race who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars — including some who have passed the $1-million mark — to campaign in the sprawling South Bay/Westside district. Most of her money came from the $100,000 she lent her campaign, according to a report she filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Saturday's forum, organized by three South Bay chapters of the League of Women Voters, marked the last time before the June 3 primary that candidates to succeed Waxman are likely to appear together. Fourteen of the 17 still actively campaigning participated, including a 27-year-old graduate student who joined the race three weeks ago as a write-in candidate.
The influence of money was on the minds even of those who have collected the most.
"We are currently experiencing a corporate takeover of the U.S. government," said spiritual teacher and bestselling author Marianne Williamson, a no-party candidate who raised more than $1.2 million from individuals and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving corporations the same rights as individuals to contribute to candidates.
Former Los Angeles Controller and Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and state Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, both Democrats, talked about things they did in office to improve public access to information about campaign contributors. And radio host Matt Miller, also a Democrat, repeated his call for lawmakers to be barred from accepting donations from industries they regulate.
One of the less-known candidates, Democrat Michael Shapiro, suggested television stations and newspapers provide free airtime or advertising. Libertarian Mark Matthew Herd said public financing of all campaigns — with a $100,000 spending limit — was the best way to end wealthy interests' influence.
Not everyone had a chance to answer each question. Forum organizers, struggling with the logistics of such a large field, divided the participants into four groups, with each group receiving a different set of three questions. In brief closing statements, candidates were given a chance to address issues they had not been asked about earlier.
The league enforced strict rules: no exceeding the time limit, no personal attacks. When Democrat Vince Flaherty broke both of those rules, a league official warned he would be ousted from the forum if he did it again. Flaherty apologized and kept his seat.
Waxman is stepping down after 40 years in Congress, representing one of the wealthiest active districts in the nation.
He is credited with leadership in preserving coastal and mountain areas, making generic prescription drugs more available, pushing for measures to clean up the air and combat global warming, and shepherding the Affordable Care Act, among other achievements. For years he and a longtime friend, former Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, led a political organization that helped many like-minded candidates win local, state and congressional offices.
The 33rd Congressional District stretches from Beverly Hills and parts of Los Angeles' Westside, through the Santa Monica Mountains into Malibu and down the coast through the Palos Verdes Peninsula.