Ethics panel wants more public funding available to candidates
Los Angeles’ Ethics Commission is calling for an increase in public funding available to candidates seeking city office.
The city currently provides $2 for each dollar a candidate raises in primary elections, and $4 for each dollar contributed in two-way runoffs in general elections.
On Thursday, the panel recommended the city match be increased to $6 in both primary and general elections.
“You want to allow people to talk to constituents, not just donors, and I think that increasing the match will reduce the amount of time you have to spend fundraising,” said Jessica Levinson, vice president of the commission and a professor at Loyola Law School.
She said that publicly financed programs are designed to reduce corruption, and as more office-seekers agree to abide by campaign spending limits to receive the money it should decrease the degree to which “money controls the game.”
The city paid approximately $10 million in matching funds to candidates in the 2013 elections.
The commission also announced it would no longer enforce aggregate contribution limits on individuals giving to city and school board candidates as a result of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The high court found limits on total giving to multiple candidates by contributors unconstitutionally infringes on their free speech rights.
City caps on what donors can give to individual candidates will remain in effect. Those range from $700 to $1,300 per election, depending on the office. Because of that and other city regulations, the effect of the Supreme Court decision may no be as significant in Los Angeles as some other jurisdictions, Levinson said.
The proposal to boost public funding of city campaigns, which must be approved by the City Council, would bring L.A. in line with New York City, which matches contributions at a six-to-one ratio.
To qualify for matching funds, candidates must agree to limit their overall campaign expenditures and the amount of personal money they donate to their campaigns. They must also agree to debate opponents.
Candidates also are required to raise certain amounts on their own to qualify: $25,000 for council candidates, $75,000 for controller and city attorney candidates and $150,000 for mayoral candidates. Only the first $250 of each contribution for City Council candidates and the first $500 of contributions to citywide candidates counts toward the threshold for matching money.
Other rules that go into effect in 2015 will also “significantly reduce the pool” of contributions that will qualify for matching funds, said Mike Altschule, policy director for the commission.
At that point, only contributions from city residents would qualify for matching city funds. Additionally, candidates would be required to collect at least 200 contributions of $5 or more from individuals residing within the area they represent.
Brad Davies, with the grassroots group Money Out Voters In, told the commission that increasing the matching rate would help change a perception that the city has a “government of the rich, for the rich.”
“We’ll never get all the money out of politics, that’s just the reality of it,” he said. “But, with a certain amount of money, at least you can run a credible campaign.”
The commission also voted to raise the cap on total matching funds available to a candidate, which has remained unchanged since 1991.
Under the proposal, the maximum available to candidates in general elections would increase from $125,000 to $187,000 for City Council candidates; from $300,000 to $450,000 for city controller; from $350,000 to $475,000 for city attorney; and from $800,000 to $1.2 million for mayor.
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