Smack dab in the middle of an election season, the L.A. City Ethics Commission decided yesterday afternoon to raise the cap on campaign contributions that municipal candidates can collect from their sponsors.
In other words: L.A.'s election system just got a little less Democratic, a lot more bought-and-sold.
The controversial item (especially controversial in the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street, with 1-percenter suspicions lingering on the air) drew a large, angry crowd...
... when it was first discussed on February 23. But commissioners knew that if they just postponed the final decision a couple weeks, interest would dwindle and they could drop this greed-bomb on a meeker mob.
Indeed, the only story out this morning on the city's fat new contribution limits is a post on the Los Angeles Times news blog. (It's behind a paywall, so good luck with that.) And, of course, some bloggin' rage from former LA Daily News editor Ron Raye, whose headline reads "The Dictatorship of the Moral Midgets Is No Laughing Matter":
Talk about casting against type -- failed comedian Herb Wesson as the Great Dictator of City Hall? Ingenious!
... And now comes the piece de resistance -- the showpiece of Herb's dictatorship intended to break all public resistance -- upping how much money candidates for city offices can extort from people wanting favors and a piece of the action by 30 and 40 percent as if the kind of 10 to 1 money advantages and Super-PAC support insider candidates already have over honest citizens isn't enough.
City Council President Wesson very openly backed the initiative to double contribution caps for municipal candidates (including his own cap, and those of his political pals). Many speculate it was he who directed the commission to make this decision in the first place, seeing as he's running every other legally questionable City Hall initiative to further his own career.
The whole campaign-finance conversation comes at a very odd time, seeing as Los Angeles is in the middle of an election cycle, and the Ethics Commission was facing no particular deadline to create new spending limits. Their only argument was inflation -- and it was a weak one.
"The City Ethics Commission acted unlawfully today, in violation of City law that does not allow campaign finance changes to be made in the middle of an election," writes Cary Brazeman, indie candidate for City Controller, in an email. "These changes will disproportionately benefit incumbent officeholders running for the same or higher offices, and unduly disadvantage election challengers."
Here are the changes, according to the commission:
The adjustments result in contribution limits to City Council candidates of $700 per person, per election and contribution limits to Citywide candidates of $1,300 per person, per election. The Commission voted to adjust other limits, as well, including the aggregate contribution limit, the aggregate non-individual contribution limit, and the per-person, per-election limits on loans to candidates.(has to be repaid within 45 days.)All of these adjustments are effective immediately and apply to candidates in the 2013 regular elections.
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Previously, the limits were $500 and $1,000.
The more catastrophic changes are those not specified in the release. (Oops, looks like we buried our lede.) The "aggregate non-individual contribution limit," which means the total amount that a candidate can collect from major entities like corporations and unions, has been raised from $150,000 to $202,300 for City Council candidates; $400,000 to $539,400 for City Attorney and City Controller candidates; and $900,000 to $1,213,800 for mayoral candidates.
We can just hear the stampede of developers clamoring to push Garcetti past the $1 million mark. Have at it, boys!