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Money Matters: Campaign Finance Reforms Will Help End the Corruption and Incompetence at City Hall

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: 


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11 Responses to Money Matters: Campaign Finance Reforms Will Help End the Corruption and Incompetence at City Hall

  1. teddy says:

    I agree, money is a big motivator for crime. Crimes? Don’t you agree
    that the people in this city have been victimized by
    “holier than thou” crooks in the important administrative jobs
    for which they received very good paychecks as well as opportunities
    galore for so much more.

    • Sandy Sand says:

      I would agree, Teddy, that the “holier than thou” crooks have ripped us off every way they can think of.

      But, I think there’s something else at work here.

      Power! From the lowliest to the loftiest — give them a thimbleful of power and they’ll take an ocean’s worth, as proven by cops over using their authority to TSA trolls who frisk four-year-olds to presidents like Nixon. None are immune.

  2. teddy says:

    I would like to make another comment. On ABC7 just now I hear Gov. Jerryy
    Brown make the comment that we need to raise taxes because right now we are
    2 millions short on what we need to pay. C’mon. The answer is we do not need
    2 million dollars worth of anything right now. We simply do not have the money.
    I do not know if it was stolen as shown in this article or whether the books are
    padded and should be downsized. Wendy G.. there is a job for you. Find the money
    or correct the budget. We cannot pay more taxes. They are the highest they have
    ever been right now.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Brown gave his support to Trutanich. Neither deserves a penny.

  4. kk says:

    How interesting that all the comments here don’t really address the issue raised by Ron’s excellent post–namely, how contributions stack the system in favor of those with deep enough pockets to “buy” influence. What I find most disheartening is how issues really don’t matter when it comes to elections: it is all about raising money. Any one who has participated in the process of electing a candidate has seen the same problem.

    Rather than repeating the tired old bromides of how high taxes are, it makes more sense to figure out how to get more money to the campaigns of people like Cary Brzaeman. Teddy, have you written a check to his campaign or to common cause or created a fund raiser to help raise the dollars needed to put people like Cary in office? Otherwise, we are just playing the “ain’t it awful” game.

    • Why We Need Public Funded Elections Now
      All average voters should demand public funded elections and a citizens funded elections.

      Wealthy and corporate donors dominate our elections and the problem is getting worse. In every election since 2000, candidates for public office have raised more money from big donors and political committees and less money from small donors giving $200 or less. In 2010, wealthy interests put in more than $8 for every $1 from small donors. Allowing such distorted campaign funding is counterproductive to Democracy and restricts the honest non-wealthy citizen from running for office and deprives our citizens of the true democratic choice. This is not what our founding fathers had in mind.

      The public suffers from the results of this pay-to-play system. Political contributions are investments in our democracy and the elected officials to whom we entrust it. And the more they spend, the more investors expect in return. Wall Street spent over a billion dollars on campaigns and lobbying in Washington and kept Congress and regulators at bay—until it was too late to prevent a market meltdown that destroyed our economy. When Congress reformed health care, the only clear winners were the pharmaceutical companies, which put more than $60 million into the recent elections and more than $800 million into lobbying; during the past 3 years. When we permit such campaign practices, we tie our elected official’s hands from conducting their job for their constituents honestly and efficiently

      The American people must strongly support Public Funded and Fair Elections as a way to change pay-to-play in politics.

      It’s time to get elected officials out of the money chase and let them do the job we elected them to do: tackle tough problems and represent their communities and not the special interests groups.
      Thank you,
      YJ Draiman

  5. Teddy says:

    I do write checks to support candidates – of course, not being a mllionaire,
    I jusr send checks to the ones I support to help pay for telephones, paper
    and food. I don’t understand why everyone is so impressed with Obama’s
    millions – is he buying votes in Colombia?

  6. Wayne from Occupied Koretz-Encino says:

    Because of outside L.A. Powerbrokers/mobsters—Encino got conquered by the Vichy Dictator Field Marshall Koretz! In one of the very FEW fair council contests witnessed in some time, Vahedi won the primary and certainly won the run-off (not counting the misprinted sample ballots, dead, out-of-city, non-citizen, homeless, and Pet voters!) Even if somehow a legitimate challenger gets into a run-off, the MACHINE with all its buckets and boatloads of CASH will do whatever to win. This proposal to esentially CAP these sleezy campaings at 100k and allow a guy with $25,000 of his own bucks and 200 in-district “supporters” to run head to head to the MACHINE would change the whole game as it is now played. THUS, WHEN will we see this REFORM?

  7. A message from YJ Draiman for Mayor of Los Angeles 2013

    Dear Los Angelino,

    Los Angeles should be the most wonderful city in the world. We have great weather, a multitude of people with a varied background, an unrivaled enterprise and culture, a gateway to the Far East with major ports for business and industry. The LA leadership performance has been failing for many years. The corruption is running rampant. Los Angeles is on the verge of bankruptcy. We must replace the current leadership if we are to survive the current financial disaster and mishandling of city revenues and assets. We must restore fiscal responsibility to LA City Hall or we are doomed.

    The City Hall insiders have been bought and paid for by the special interests and have totally ignored the average residents/stakeholders and their concerns and hardships over and over. It is imperative that we stop this culture of corruption and favoritism.

    This is the twenty fourth hour. Time is running out and we must begin to create a better future for Los Angeles. I care about Los Angeles, a wonderful and thriving city. I strongly believe that we need a strong and determined leader that can bring people together to solve difficult challenges with innovative solutions. With my track record as Neighborhood rejuvenator and being an advocate for neighborhood councils and residents/stakeholders all over this City, I believe I am the only choice to put Los Angeles back on the road to economic health and confidence in its leadership. As a unified and cohesive force we can revive and bring back Los Angeles to its deserved fame and status.

    Join me in our campaign to rebuild Los Angeles and create a sustainable future for the residents/stakeholders and our families.

    “Let us take back our city and make it Los Angeles governed by the people for the people”

    YJ Draiman

  8. James Dromo says:

    The only way for the people of Los Angeles to take over their city is Elect YJ Draiman for Mayor

    We should demonstrate in the streets, to wake up the masses, to expose the truth, to prove that the current administration has destroyed our city’s economic vitality.
    Draiman is the only candidate at this time that could unite the city of Los Angeles, who could appeal to all the political parties, with a program that could look to the future and focus Los Angeles on its purposes. Draiman has the right chemistry to bridge the gap and unify our city for the common good.
    We should give Draiman a chance – try it you will like it. The people of Los Angeles will be the better under the leadership of YJ Draiman.
    A corruptive and corrosive power could exist and be nurtured by the peoples apathy. Therefore to change, the people must overcome the apathy and vote their conscience.
    This is the only way a change for the better will occur in Los Angeles.
    James D

    Back To JamesDromo’s Instablog HomePage

  9. Dear Voter,

    On this Independence Day, we’ve got a fresh opportunity to declare America’s independence from big money control of our elections.

    Encouraged by the success in Montana, We are launching an Amend 2012 campaign in California yesterday to give voters a voice against all the big money madness this November. We’ve got less than five weeks to gather 150,290 valid voter signatures so that Californians can declare their support on election day for a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United.

    This is a huge undertaking. Can you help us make it happen by donating today?

    There’s a lot to do in a short amount of time! We are printing petitions, contracting for canvass crews to fan out across the state, and setting up a volunteer operation. We have to pull together as much funds as possible from allies and donors for this ambitious drive, but need to raise substantial more funds to get to the finish line. We could also use volunteers to help us in this crucial task and restore our Democracy.

    We know that Californians, like other Americans, are fed up with attempts by millionaires and big corporations to buy our elections; now we have to show them they can fight back. Our Western Region rebellion is spreading, and with California in the mix – a major State in the presidential election – we can send a loud message to Washington, DC that it’s time to make elections of, by and for the people, not of, bought and paid for by special interests. We must hold our elected officials accountable to the people.

    Help voters raise the cry for independence from big money in politics. Give today to spread this national uprising to take back our democracy!

    “Let us take back our city and make it Los Angeles governed by the people for the people”

    So as you enjoy a day with family and friends, picnics and fireworks, please take a moment to support our 21st century declaration of independence – from big money.

    Thanks for all you do,

    YJ Draiman
    and the rest of the team at Government by the people

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