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Reformers Speak Out: The LA Ethics Commission Must Keep Its Finger in the Dike

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article  was written by three of the most respected political reformers in Los Angeles and California:  Robert Stern, formerly the head of the Center for Government Studies; Kathay Feng,  Executive Director of California Common Cause, and Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. They are urging the City Ethics Commission to reject more than doubling the amount of money candidates for city offices can get from individual contributors. UPDATE: LA Times editorial today is headlined “LA Tackles Campaign Donations — Badly.”

By Robert M. Stern, Kathay Feng and Trent Lange

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, we have watched the explosion of special interest money flooding into elections.

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission is now asked to consider dramatically increasing all of the contribution limit amounts in the city’s campaign finance law.  The LA Ethics Commission has long had a sterling reputation for being one of the most aggressive and forward thinking agencies anywhere in the country. It has managed despite budget cutbacks, to strongly enforce the city’s tough ethics and campaign financing laws.

Why would the Ethics Commission consider more than doubling thresholds
for contributions: from $500 to $1,100 for city council candidates and
from $1000 to $2,200 for citywide campaigns?

It’s not to make city elections more competitive. In 2008, the LA City Ethics Commission itself found that: ”Raising contribution limits seems to disproportionately benefit
incumbents, who already raise and spend more on campaigns than
non-incumbent candidates.” 

Our analysis verifies that, showing that an astounding 93% of the maximum $500 contributions to council candidates in races involving incumbents since 2003 went to the incumbents.  

Doubling the contribution limit amounts only means that they will be able to raise more funds from special interests and make it even more difficult for challengers to
compete. 

Who else would benefit besides incumbents?  It certainly isn’t regular Los Angeles voters.  Less than 0.1% of Los Angeles residents made the maximum of $500 or $1,000 contributions as is. The other 99.9 % of regular voters would just end up having their voices drowned out even more by special interests.  

The last time the LA Ethics Commission considered raising contribution and spending limits was just four years ago.  They decided not to.  

Nothing has changed since that conclusion except that special interests’ efforts to control our government have become even more pervasive.  The cost of living increase since 2008 has been minimal (less than 4%), and incumbents still dominate election campaigns.

We urge the Commission to heed Angelenos who have spoken time and time again — we want our officials to be accountable to the people, not to special interests.

The Ethics Commission is meeting this Thursday, Feb 23, 2012, 09:30 AM, City Hall Room 1060. You can make your voice heard by emailing the commission – Paul H. Turner, president; Valerie Vanaman, vice president; Marlene Canter and Nathan J. Hochman — at ethics.commission@lacity.org.

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3 Responses to Reformers Speak Out: The LA Ethics Commission Must Keep Its Finger in the Dike

  1. MissAnthrope says:

    Looks like lobbying is a double-edged sword: The lobbyists lobby the council and the council has lobbyists lobby the Ethics Commission.

  2. Herb Wesson-Oil says:

    Down with Ethics, Down with it I say!

  3. Scott Zwartz says:

    When you look at contributions to councilmembers, you will find not only husbands and wives contributing, but relatives from other Cities and employees of developers giving the maxium. For example, Larry Bond wanted LaBonge’s help to prevent Hollywood kids from having a park, not only did he and his wife give the maximum but so did relatives and business buddies from Chicago.

    However, I suspect Citizens United will be more necessary to cover the paths of the corrupt now that the CRA has been abolished. The city Council will have to make direct appropriations to billionaires like Eli Broad, so if Eli should happen to perhaps maybe er, return the favor with kicking down some of the council largess to let’s say eric Garcetti, it would be nice to have a Citizens United secret organization for the donating — but who’s to know. Thanks to the US Supreme Court for allowing corruption to have another avenue to pillage the people.

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