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Fact and Folly About the Mayoral Race

As the Los Angeles mayoral campaign heads down the final stretch to the municipal election April 20, some would just call this the silly season. The candidates are making some good points, but every once in a while they veer off track. For example:

THE PARSIMONIOUS POLITICIAN POSTURE: Eight mayoral candidates have declared that if elected they will not live in Getty House, the 14-room mayor’s mansion. The Hancock Park estate was donated in 1976 as the official mayor’s residence. The mayor, whoever he or she is, lives there rent-free. But not living there would probably involve significant new security costs at a new mayor’s home. So what’s with all the posturing?

THE ETHICAL MILLIONAIRE POSTURE: Los Angeles voters thought they voted three years ago for ethics reform in city government. Now they can’t be sure.

Ballot Measure H, the 1990 measure approved by 57% of the voters, restricted gifts, honorariums and campaign contributions, and called for public financing of political campaigns. It was a very good idea. It created the Ethics Commission to enforce these new restrictions. The idea behind it is that the men and women whom voters send to do the people’s business ought not to be beholden to special-interest money. It costs millions of dollars to get a message out in a huge and diverse metropolis like Los Angeles. Someone has to pay for it. Either a politician must be personally wealthy, must owe special interests or must owe John and Jane Q. Public. Measure H said it’s best to owe the voters. And most voters agreed.

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Lawyer-businessman and civic activist Richard Riordan agreed wholeheartedly with that reasoning, too. That’s why he was the largest individual backer of state and local drives to establish public campaign funds. He contributed $10,000 to Measure H alone. He deserves credit for that.

But now candidate Riordan in campaign commercials knocks his opponents as “wrong” to “take city money for politics.” Alone among the major candidates, Riordan, independently wealthy, has refused to take public funds. And he won’t abide by the $2-million spending limit. So, to match his spending, his opponents are accepting special-interest contributions criticized by Riordan as “the moneyed interests that are bankrolling the campaigns of many of my opponents.” Yet Riordan says those same mayoral candidates shouldn’t take public money either. Huh?

Campaign fund raising and spending are upward bidding processes. They never end until everyone has to abide by the same rules--and the same ceilings. Sadly--and expressly against the will of the voters who backed campaign reform--that now cannot happen in this mayor’s race.


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