Will the Los Angeles Ethics Commission Commit to a Stronger Campaign Public Financing System?
This Tuesday, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission is expected to vote on new recommendations to city campaign finance laws. But after all the talk and all the studies, it’s not even clear that they will be discussing a ban on corporate donations or a boost to public financing.
It is time that LA City commits to a public financing program that matches six public dollars to every private dollar raised from actual human residents. We know from studies of other major cities that boosting the match rate will reduce the influence of wealthy special interests in local elections and incentivize campaigns to actually talk to constituents, and not just chase deep-pocketed donors.
The Ethics Commission meeting is at 9:30am, June 19, at Los Angeles City Hall, Room 1050. You can find the agenda here: https://ethics.lacity.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/20180619-Agenda.pdf.
Below is a letter of support California Common Cause is sending to the Commission:
Los Angeles Ethics Commission
200 North Spring St.
City Hall, 24th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012
To the LA Ethics Commissioners:
On behalf of California Common Cause, we appreciate the LA Ethics Commission’s efforts to examine potential changes to Los Angeles’ campaign public financing program. At the April general meeting, the Commission asked a number of important questions for which we have provided our recommendations below.
That said, we are extremely concerned that the Commission may be abandoning the previous commitment to a public process that would strengthen the public financing program, and instead only examine changes that would reinforce incumbent advantage. There has been growing storm of public anger around special interest money flowing to city officials – to only focus on how to allow candidates to raise more money from private donations ignores the warning signs. We strongly urge the Commission re-commit to considering the entire range of reforms that would restore public trust in our city elected officials.
Matching Funds Rate
We strongly support raising the current match rate to 6:1 for both the primary and general elections. This rate would put Los Angeles on par with cities such as New York and Berkeley and counties such as Montgomery County, MD. Boosting the rate will have a positive impact of incentivizing candidates to communicate with a broader and more diverse base of constituents in neighborhoods across the city, instead of focusing only on the wealthiest of donors.
In-District Contribution Requirement
We strongly support a requirement that candidates raise a certain number of contributions within their districts (for City Council) or within the city of Los Angeles (Citywide candidates). Candidates must demonstrate some basis of support within their communities. We are open to considering an adjustment of the total number of in-district contributions required from 200 residents to a different number.
Qualifying Signature Requirement
We strongly recommend eliminating the requirement that candidates gather an extra 500 signatures to qualify for the full matching funds. This additional requirement does nothing to encourage constituent contact as most campaigns simply pay signature-gatherers.
Debate Participation Requirement
We strongly support the requirement that candidates participate in a town hall or debate before receiving matching funds.
Increasing the Per-Candidate Maximum Amounts
We strongly support increasing the total amount of matching funds given to qualifying candidates, following Ethics’ staff recommendations, adjusted for CPI. However, we suggest rounding up the numbers slightly for the following offices:
- City Council: Primary – $175,000; General – $200,000
- City Controller: Primary – $450,000; General – $525,000
For City Attorney and Mayor, we agree with the numbers proposed by Ethics staff.
Restrictions on Developer Contributions
We agree with Councilmember David Ryu that a ban on contributions from developers would be a positive step toward reforming our elections, opening them up to a broader array of candidates, and developing a more even playing field for candidates of varying economic backgrounds.
In the event that such a ban is found to be difficult to administer, we strongly recommend a clean ban on all non-individual contributions, similar to the federal ban and San Diego’s ban.
We support the idea that campaign donors should be required to sign a form attesting to their contribution, whether that be a paper form or online form. Not only would this provide some accountability to the system, but also protect contributors and candidates alike. And such a form would make it easier for Ethics staff to track contributions if there later on there is a complaint.
California Common Cause urges the Ethics Commission to consider stronger and more equitable approaches to Los Angeles’ campaign finance system. We believe such changes will increase voter participation in local elections, broaden the kinds of donors who contribute and encourage more people of various economic backgrounds and political views to run for office.
Sylvia Moore, Southern California Organizer
California Common Cause