Hence, we have campaign matching funds. Whereby Los Angeles City Council candidates who prove their capacity to raise $25,000 for themselves are eligible for in-kind matches from local government up to over $100,000.
The candidates are forbidden to accept more than $500 per council election or $1,000 per mayoral election from anybody. So, with matching funds, matters came to be more equal at election time. But not enough for some people.
Which brings us to the three longstanding proposals recently before the City Ethics Commission -- which among its many duties oversees campaign spending and financing -- to extend the campaign-funding laws in new directions. The first proposal was to double the matching of individual contributions. The second -- and more controversial -- was regarding how early in the election cycle the city should start matching such contributions. (Currently, the city only matches contributions in the final 12 months before the primary. But citywide candidates can solicit contributions for up to another year before that.)
And the third issue was whether to waive the contribution-limits rules -- in one or another fashion -- of lesser-funded candidates in races in which another Riordan-type millionaire might decide to run for local office. A related controversy was whether to make the changes right now, while the 2001 fund-raising cycle is in progress, or to hold off until the 2003 electoral cycle, when all participants would know the new rules in advance and there’d be time to bring them into orderly effect. I was sorry that this got to be an issue, because it tempted the panel to do the inevitable.
As it happens, we‘re facing an important mayor’s race. The 2001 election will also transform the membership of the City Council. And the city attorney and city controller, who‘ve both served since 1985, will also have to step down due to term limits. I think it’s fair to say that we won‘t see an election quite this important for some time to come. So it would be great if some or all of these proposed changes could be in effect before 2001.
But the ethics panel decided to punt the whole matter to 2003. Certainly, there were reasons to delay that didn’t involve procrastination. Councilman Mike Feuer noted that if the funding provisions applied retroactively, as they probably would, they might mean more matches for those who filed early to run. This might look like bias to those who take a dim view of the Ethics Commission.
Good point. But if the proposed reforms are valid, and no one has said they aren‘t, we’ll need them in 2001 more than we‘ll need them in an off-year poll like 2003, when only some council seats are up for grabs. The issue seemed to be well worth braving a little adverse comment for. Too bad the Ethics Commission chose not to.