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L.A. council backs overhaul of campaign finance law

Candidates running for office in Los Angeles will have new incentives to collect donations from inside the city under a campaign finance law overhaul backed by the City Council on Wednesday.

Under changes beginning in 2015, public matching funds will be given for donations raised only within city limits. To be eligible for the city money, candidates will have to collect contributions from at least 200 people living in the district they hope to represent.

Starting next year, candidates will also be eligible for increased matching funds. Under the new ordinance, four public dollars — up from one — will be available as a match for every dollar a candidate takes in from qualified donors during the general election. Two dollars will be available for every eligible dollar during the primary.

Election reform activists and lawmakers said the new ordinance will bring balance to campaigns that have become dominated by special interests.

Independent groups, including labor unions and business organizations, can spend as much as they like supporting candidates, as long as they don't coordinate activities with the contestants' campaigns. The result can be that special interest committees dwarf spending by candidates, who face limits on how much they can raise from individual donors.

The new ordinance raises contribution limits to candidate campaigns from $500 to $700 in City Council races and from $1,000 to $1,300 in citywide races.

Independent groups also will be required to disclose more detail on how they are funded, "so the voters can know who has spent the money that is trying to influence their vote," Councilman Paul Krekorian said.

Other changes will allow donors to give to campaigns via text message and reduce the roles city commissioners and department heads can play in campaign fundraising.

Reform advocates praised many of the rule changes but complained about the council's rejection last month of a proposal to shorten the campaign fundraising season, a move intended to shift power away from incumbents and limit the amount of spending in races.

That proposal would have reduced the window in which candidates could raise money from 24 to 18 months in citywide contests and from 18 to 12 months in City Council races. Council members said the shorter fundraising season plan was too restrictive. On Wednesday, they voted 11 to 0 in favor of the new rules, which come back next week for a final vote.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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