Search through the campaign contribution lists at the LA City Ethics Commission and it won’t take you long to see why City Hall is so corrupt.
Your elected officials are bought and paid for — put into the highest paid and most outrageously overstaffed — municipal offices in America by money, lots and lots of money, from people who expect and usually get a healthy return on their money.
In the last two elections, Eastside Councilman Jose Huizar has put the touch on 201 people who actually live in his 14th District and more than 1,000 who live elsewhere while raising nearly $900,000 so he could trounce his underfunded challengers. Shamelessly, he even took the maximum $100,000 in public matching funds just to be safe because challenger Rudy Martinez put $213,000 of his own money into his campaign while raising only $88,000 from other people.
Last year, running for an open seat in District 12, the candidate anointed by the City Hall political machine, Mitch Englander, raised $568,000 from his far-flung friends to gain a 57 percent majority over his closest challenger Brad Smith, described in the press as the “contender with any press or money” — if $23,000 counts as money.
For his part, Antonio Villaraigosa garnered 54 percent of the vote in winning re-election in 2009 with a campaign warchest of more than $3 million — 14 times what his closest rival Walter Moore was able to raise.
There are typical examples of why city elections are almost always a fraud, why only 13 % of registered voters cast ballots last year, why City Hall has become a front for developers, unions and other special interests that feed at the public trough.
The rarest of exceptions is Carmen Trutanich, an outsider who raised $2 million from contributors to match insider Jack Weiss in the City Attorney’s race in 2009 and then got $1 million more — twice what Weiss got — from independent expenditure committees, the vast majority from the police union.
Money matters. It matters about 99 % of the time.
It means special interests get the politicians they pay for and the public gets the bills for the government they own.
We can do something to level the playing field — oops the U.S. Supreme Court says we can’t do that — but we can pressure City Hall to change the formula for public matching funds for candidates so that ordinary citizens could mount a credible campaign, get people talking about the real issues and maybe even win a few offices.
For the past year, Kathay Feng of Common Cause of California and her team have worked out a plan that would increase city matching funds in Council races from $1 for every dollar raised to $4 for every dollar raised up to the same maximum of $100,000.
Other proposed changes would give candidates the full $100,000 when the raise $25,000 as long as they have gotten contributions from at 200 residents of their districts.
Sitting Council members don’t like that idea, requiring them to actually spend time with the little people they were elected to represent. It’s beneath them.
These proposals are set to come before the Ethics Commission in June (the May meeting was cancelled because the commission is pleading its case not to be further debilitated by cuts in their staff).
It will take a miracle to get this through the Commission and adopted by the City Council in time for the 2013 election.
The miracle isn’t whether they will enact these reforms. The Commission and the Council will do that if the miracle occurs and the community – the ordinary people in every part of the city — rise up and demand this step toward fairer elections and better government.
If you don’t join this campaign with nearly half the Council seats open in 2013 and failed state legislators ready to take them all, with the mayor, controller and city attorney offices open, than you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Click here for a list of the money raised by elected officials in 2007, 2009 and 2011 and below is a chart of the campaign finance rules today and the reforms that are proposed: