Common Cause Urges Increase in Campaign Matching Funds to Enhance Voices of Small Donors

LOS ANGELES, Friday, September 21, 2018 – California Common Cause today urged the Los Angeles city rules committee to approve a package of public financing reforms that would enhance the influence of small donors on city council and citywide elections and reduce the influence of wealthy, special interest donors. 

The nonpartisan, good government organization recommends three main changes to the campaign finance system that matches individual donations with public funds. The changes are: 

  • Increase the match rate to $6 of public dollars for each $1 of personal contribution made by a LA resident. The current match rate ranges from $2 public match to $1 in the primary, and $4 match to $1 in the general election.  
  • Modify the requirements to qualify for matching funds. To qualify, candidates should raise a set amount in contributions of $115 or less from Los Angeles city residents, and for city council races at least 100 of those residents should be in-district contributors. Current law requires amounts of $250 or less, with at least 200 in-district contributors.  
  • Participate in a public town hall meeting or debate. Current law requires candidates to agree to a debate but not to participate.  

Increasing the public match amount, while simultaneously lowering the maximum amount city residents can donate to help a candidate qualify, creates more of an incentive for candidates to seek out small dollar donations from ordinary people in the communities they represent. 

“We want our future city council members and mayors out talking to people and raising money from people who live in their neighborhoods,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. “Our city leaders should be compelled to do what’s right for the ordinary people who elect them into office. As it is now, candidates spend too much time dialing for dollars from wealthy donors and being on the hook for their special interests.”  

The city of Los Angeles is one of about a dozen cities in the United States to offer candidates partial public financing for elections. Some form of public financing has been in place since 1990, but the original $1 to $1 match was increased to $2 to 1 in primaries and $4 to $1 in general elections for elections in 2013 and 2015. Candidates who qualify for the system agree to limit their spending to a certain cap, which is designed to shift their time from constant fund-raising to grassroots, voter engagement. 

A report from the Campaign Finance Institute indicates the larger match in 2013 and 2015 increased candidate participation in the system and attracted donations from a slightly more diverse pool of donors. But it was not enough to increase the role of small donors and decrease the influence of wealthy special interests. The report recommended the New York-style super-match system of $6 to $1. 

“The changes took L.A. elections in the right direction, but Big Money’s megaphone still dominates,” Feng said. “It’s imperative to make the public financing program more robust, so that it increases the power of average voters, and makes candidates and elected officials more accountable to constituents.” 

The rules committee is set to meet at 8:30 a.m. Friday at City Hall. If it approves the reforms, the package will go to the full city council for a vote and be effective for the 2020 election cycle.