Restructuring Outline Renews Proposal for Campaign Donor Limit

Times Staff Writer

After more than a year's delay, a measure to limit campaign contributions in municipal elections may get new life by being tied to a proposal to restructure city government.

The proposed cap on contributions to candidates in city races had been mired in a City Council committee since December, 1984.

But in recent weeks, the proposal to limit contributions has been resurrected and linked to a plan that would give Long Beach a mayor elected citywide and a full-time council. Proponents of the restructuring say they hope the contribution caps will make it more popular with voters who have been skeptical of increasing the power of their elected officials.

Both the contribution limit and full-time council plan are to go before the council Tuesday when it sits as the Charter Amendment Committee. Many city officials predict the council will combine the proposals into a single measure on the June, 1986, ballot.

As drafted, the contribution ceilings limit individual donations to $750 per election for each City Council candidate and $1,500 for citywide races such as city attorney and auditor, and the proposed mayor's position. Candidates who violate the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Also, violators could face further penalties. If a judge determined that a violation had a bearing on the outcome of an election, the candidate would be disqualified from taking office and declared ineligible for any city office for up to five years.

Combined Measure Predicted

The effort to limit contributions has sparked criticism from pro-business groups, which say it would give incumbents an unfair advantage in fund raising.

Supporters of the limits say they are pleased the proposal is making headway, but have expressed qualms about it being linked to the full-time council and at-large mayor plan.

"The contribution limit has been used as a bargaining chip" by council members, said Fred Kugler, director of the Long Beach Coalition for Responsive Government, the group pushing the campaign reforms. "It was a matter of some members of the council saying, 'I won't give you campaign contribution limitations until you give me mayor-at-large.' It was quid pro quo ."

Kugler and other supporters of contribution limits fear the proposal could be dragged to defeat if combined with the full-time council issue, which they contend will be unpopular with voters because it would hike the council's $12,600-a-year salary to as much as $39,000.

However, proponents of the full-time council plan believe that voters will be more likely to support it if it is tied to the campaign contribution limits, thus reducing the possibility that special-interest groups could gain influence with large donations.

Reform as a Sweetener

Council members "know campaign finance reform would sweeten the chances of the mayor-at-large," Kugler said. "We don't want them combined because we want the reforms to go through."

Councilman Warren Harwood, the council's principal supporter of the contribution limits, agreed that the issue probably would stand a better chance with the voters if it were not tied to the full-time council proposal.

"I believe it merits consideration on its own, but I'm also aware that in order to get it on the ballot, it may be necessary to combine it with something else," Harwood said. "Without that, I think the council as a whole is not sufficiently supportive of it."

Harwood first introduced the plan in early December, 1984. It was modeled after contribution limits introduced in Los Angeles and approved by voters in April, 1984. The limits in Los Angeles are $500 for council candidates and $1,000 for citywide races.

The Long Beach council members' initial response to the proposal was lukewarm--they voted to send it to their Finance Committee for more study. Sensing that a majority of the council was opposed to the contribution limits, Harwood said, he decided to keep the proposal locked in committee until the political winds changed.

'A Political Reality'

"I wanted the reforms, but I wasn't prepared to push it to certain defeat," he said. "It wasn't because of a lack of desire, it was because of a political reality."

After the full-time council issue surfaced, Harwood decided to renew his push for the campaign reform measure.

Although the proposal won the support of the Finance Committee early in December, the panel decided to raise the ceiling for council race contributions from $500 to $750. The limit for citywide candidates also was increased, from $1,000 to $1,500.

Kugler said he is troubled by that increase. If anything, Kugler said, Long Beach should have lower contribution limits than Los Angeles, where the council districts have five times as many people.

"It's just the principle of it," Kugler said. "They're going the wrong way on limitations."

Harwood said the contribution limits have been embraced in part because they would help to dispel "the specter of enormously large campaign contributions" that would likely come with a citywide race for mayor.

'Rather Reasonable'

Councilman Thomas Clark, a staunch backer of the full-time council and at-large mayor plan, said he sees the contribution reform proposal as "rather reasonable" and hopes it is placed on the April ballot.

Like several other members of the council, however, Clark contends the contribution limits are something that have, in the past, been unnecessary in Long Beach.

'It's not like Los Angeles, where you find most of the council members building up war chests of $500,000 or $1 million," he said. "Around here, most of the fund raising is done in dinners with contributions of about $150."

Since 1980, the nine council members have received 107 contributions of $750 or more, about 7% of the 1,595 individual contributions received, according to records in the city clerk's office.

Some council candidates have raised in excess of $80,000 during recent elections, although the average has been about half that.

Clark Top '84 Recipient

In the 1984 election, Clark raised the most money, more than $80,000. Clark also had the most contributions exceeding the proposed limit, with 21 donations of $750 or more. Those 21 contributions totaled $31,800.

Councilmen Edd Tuttle and James Wilson each got nine contributions of $750 or more during the 1984 election.

Since 1980, Tuttle received 48 individual contributions, of which 15, or about 31%, totaled $750 or more.

When Wilson held a fund-raiser in January, 1985, he got nine contributions exceeding $750. That fund-raiser netted him $36,340 a full three years before he must face another election, in 1988.

Going into the April, 1986, election, Councilwoman Jan Hall has $35,244 in contributions, $11,495 of it coming in 10 donations of more than $750.

Hall, who is expected to face a tough reelection battle against a previous opponent, James Serles, said she is "leaning toward" opposing the contribution limits.

In particular, Hall said, she is troubled by the proposal because it does not take into account contributions of volunteer campaign workers and other in-kind donations, such as office space or supplies. As Hall sees it, the plan would only be fair if it limits both kinds of contributions.

'One-Sided Proposal'

"This is a very one-sided proposal because it does not address that," Hall said. "In my opinion, dollars don't vote, people do."

Hall said adequate protection already is provided by the state's Political Reform Act, which in 1974 set requirements for disclosure of campaign contributions.

Other council members also are opposed to the contribution limits. Mayor Ernie Kell has said he would vote against the donation caps, primarily because of restrictions they would place on candidates contributing to their own race.

Councilman Tuttle also is opposed to contribution-cap plan, saying it is being pushed by Long Beach Area Citizens Involved and other grass-roots groups to improve the chances that candidates they support will win municipal elections. In the past, Tuttle has not received the support of the citizens' group.

With contribution limits, Tuttle said, "major developers and businesses would be disenfranchised" while groups like LBACI could continue to "throw garden parties" to raise funds for their own candidates.

REVAMPING CAMPAIGN FINANCES

Individual contributions to council candidates would be limited to $750 per election. The limit for citywide offices would be $1,500.

If violation affected the outcome of an election, candidate would be disqualified and declared ineligible for city office for five years. Violations would be a misdemeanor.

Contributions to political action committees would be limited to $500.

Candidates would not be allowed to use campaign funds to help other candidates.

Campaign loans from individuals must be repaid within 30 days. Restricted to same limits as contributions--$750 for council candidates and $1,500 for citywide elections.

Candidates could not spend more than $15,000 in personal funds without giving notice at least one month before the voting. Opponents then would be allowed to raise an equal amount through contributions or loans.

Individual cash contributions would be limited to $25 and total anonymous contributions would be limited to $200 per election.

A campaign contribution account would be required with money dispersed only through checks signed by the campaign treasurer or candidate.

Candidates would be restricted from maintaining a post-election balance in excess of $15,000. Other money must be returned to donors or paid to city treasury for contribution to charities.

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