Los Angeles Should Adopt People-Funded Election Rules

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles City Council should approve two reforms at its meeting today that will make its public matching funds one of the strongest campaign funding systems in the nation, says California Common Cause. 

The nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group recommended the city lower the qualifying threshold for the city’s public matching fund from $20,000 to $11,400, or the equivalent of 100 contributions of the maximum matching amount of $114. It also recommended the city require that recipients of matching funds participate in a debate open to the public that is at least 60 minutes in duration, or a town hall event if no opponent agrees to a debate.   

The lower qualifying threshold will allow nontraditional, non-incumbent candidates – women, people of color, grassroots activists – to run viable campaigns for office, and it will incentivize all candidates to seek the support of ordinary voters instead of wealthy special interests. The public debate component ensures candidates engage in a public dialogue with their opponents. 

“With the FBI knocking down the doors at City Hall, we need to rethink how city officials raise money for their campaigns,” said Rey López-Calderón. “A super match system that makes officials more representative, responsive, and accountable to ordinary residents is a critical component of people-centered elections.” 

After years of advocacy, California Common Cause applauded the city of Los Angeles in January for strengthening its public matching fund program for city council and city-wide campaigns through a first round of reforms. As of January 28, eligible city candidates can qualify for a $6 to $1 public match for campaign contributions up to $114. That means a donation from an ordinary, in-district resident could amount to the maximum amount given by a wealthy, out-of-district special interest donor.  

The move also aligns Los Angeles with cities like New York where a super match has contributed to more diversity in donors and elected officials. 

If the City Council approves the matching fund changes today, there is still more work to be done to overhaul the city’s election system. Publicly financed elections work best when the election system limits or prohibits campaign contributions from corporations and developers and only allows campaign contributions from individuals. Such recommendations are en route to City Hall after passing the rules committee last week. 

“It’s time to revive the Teddy Roosevelt position that ‘all contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law,’” said López-Calderón.  “LA’s people-only campaign contribution combined with the newly expanded matching funds program will help stem the bleeding caused by the pernicious influence of money in politics.”