L.A. Politicians Are Trying to Double Their Campaign Contribution Limits
Ah, but how quickly Los Angeles city officials forget the pact they made with the fed-up peoples of Occupy L.A.!
At a City Ethics Commission meeting today, a proposal to more than double the campaign-contribution limits for City Councilmembers and other elected officials was almost passed by the four commissioners.
But thanks to 300 angry emails and a rowdy herd of public commenters...
... who kept the conversation going for almost four hours, they postponed their decision until March 8. (One commissioner kept grumbling that she had somewhere to be.)
Of course, that could just be the age-old city tactic of waiting to vote on something until the mob has dispersed, but commissioners did seem a little more thoughtful about making the change after their hours-long public roast.
If you wish to read the proposal in its entirety, like a good little Occupier, here's the terribly jargoned PDF.
And here's the abridged version: To account for inflation, staff at the Ethics office recommended raising the contribution cap (per donor) from $500 to $1,100 for City Council candidates, and $1,000 to $2,2000 for citywide candidates.
OH, ALSO -- The staff recommended that children be able to make donations, and that donations be payable via text message. We kid you not.
It comes as no shocker that the City Council has backed this effort wholeheartedly. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Council President Herb Wesson asked the commission to consider lifting the contribution caps two months ago. He warned that without an increase, candidate-controlled campaigns would be overshadowed by independent expenditure committees, which have no donation or spending limits. ...
"If it were me, I'd say let's have no limits at all but just report [donations] faster" to the public, Wesson told the panel in December.
The really ironic part is that individual donors already funnel far more than $500 into City Council campaigns -- they just go about it sneakily. For instance, various members of a union or company can each donate the maximum amount under their own names. (And now, they can employ children as election pawns, too!)
But why would our Ethics Commission -- emphasis on the ethics -- openly allow for more 1-percenty, money-over-democracy corruption than is already wilting our fair city?
An exhaustive (yet enlightening) Times editorial yesterday argued that "the timing of this proposal undermines it, as do the amounts." (Go on, read the whole thing. Better than tackling that evil PDF.)
Finally, we would like to share our two favorite moments from today's public-comment period:
- Michael Russo of CalPIRG told the commission that "contribution limits serve really important functions in allowing ordinary citizens" to compete with corporations, developers, etc. Very simple stuff. Yet here was one commissioner's reply (couldn't see who, because we were streaming the audio online): "Have you actually done a study [showing] that an ordinary citizen in the city of Los Angeles would feel frozen out of the process?" We have no words.
- A guy calling himself "Felonious X" stood up and gave an ironic speech about how thrilled he was to see the commission foster that "special bond between big donors and the politicians who live in their pockets." He said he was tired of being lumped in with all the "puny people" who make insignificant campaign contributions. Oh, and then he said his "little muffies" -- including "Felonious X, Jr. -- were equally thrilled.
So, for a single day, City Hall turned into the land of 100 John Walshes. The world is officially a better place. Now if y'all can just get it together for a repeat performance on March 8...
Update No. 1: Anjulie Kronheim, an L.A. organizer for Common Cause California who was listening to the meeting much more closely than we were, tells us over email that the commissioners "want an outside legal opinion because the City Attorney is now viewed as potentially having a conflict of interest." She says they're also going to examine similar decisions from 1990, 2003 and 2008 -- not just 1985.
According to Kronheim, the meeting on March 8 will be a day-long affair, for to "tackle this and other campaign finance issues like matching funds." So yeah, be there.
Update No. 2: Cary Brazeman, awesome indie candidate for City Controller, says his real concern with this proposal is that Ethics staffers seem to be under the impression that raising the contribution cap is constitutionally required.
(Remember -- much like the royally corrupt Redistricting Commission, the Ethics Commission is appointed by City Councilmembers and the mayor. So the commission's staff is just another extension of the L.A. incumbency machine.)
Even if we do need to re-examine campaign-financing rules in L.A., Brazeman says the time to do so is "certainly not in the middle of an election."
Bad news for last: Ethics spokeswoman Jennifer Bravo just left us a voicemail saying that maximum contributions did actually go up for positions on the LAUSD school board. Great! more millions going into the politicized charters versus unions debate, instead of our hemorrhaging education system.
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