The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday rejected several key Ethics Commission proposals to limit the impact of independent campaigns in city elections, leading the commission’s president to predict that such uncontrolled spending will continue to increase.
“By and large, our feeling is one of disappointment that the council didn’t seize the opportunity after over two years of consideration of this issue to bring about some true, meaningful reform to address the dramatic impact of independent spending that has flooded into our races,” Ethics Commission President Miriam Krinsky said after the council votes.
City Council candidates can receive contributions of up to $500 each and spend no more than $330,000 if they accept city matching funds, but special interests can independently raise and spend unlimited amounts for candidates.
The Ethics Commission recommended that the city discourage such independent spending by lifting the spending and contribution limits for candidates whose opponents benefit from outside campaigns, and by accelerating the provision of matching funds to the disadvantaged candidates.
On Tuesday, the council approved only a portion of that plan, voting to boost the matching funds of disadvantaged candidates in runoff elections. But it rejected a proposal to apply the change to primary elections as well, and it killed the plan to lift spending and contribution limits for candidates whose opponents benefit from large independent campaigns.
Krinsky predicted that independent spending will continue to increase, beyond the record of $3.2 million in the 2001 election, an amount four times greater than all such spending in the previous decade.
“What happened today won’t take the kinds of dramatic steps we proposed to alter that trend,” Krinsky said.
Thirteen of the 15 council members have benefited from independent expenditure campaigns. To boost Mayor James K. Hahn’s election effort in 2001, $743,000 in independent funds was spent, while City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo benefited that year from $768,000 in such expenditures.
Spending limits -- but not contribution limits -- are lifted for all candidates when a large independent expenditure occurs and thus provides an “irrational windfall” for a candidate, said LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission.
However, council members who opposed the changes cited fairness concerns as well as legal questions on lifting spending and contribution caps for some candidates and not others.
Although much of its plan was rejected, the ethics panel did succeed in heading off a council bid to lift the contribution limits on all candidates in races where there are independent expenditures. The panel said that would have gutted the existing campaign finance system.