Public Financing of Political Campaigns — An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Suddenly, campaign finance laws are a hot topic with Glendale looking at tighter controls and L.A. officials looking to find ways to keep wealthy, self-financed from standing a chance in Council and mayoral elections.

Now comes the Center for Governmental
Studies (CGS) with the release today of a lengthy study by its president Bob Stern calling for a radical new approach to public financing of candidates and measures to sharply reduce large contributions to state political campaigns while rewarding candidates who get large numbers of contributions of $100 or less (CampaignFinance.pdf).

Entitled Public Campaign Financing in California: A Model Law for 21st Century
 the study calls for setting up “
a hybrid campaign financing system of private contributions and public funding. It would create a powerful incentive for candidates to engage in broad based, grassroots fundraising. It required them to generate a large number of small, private contributions exclusively from California residents to qualify for public funds.”

“Candidates throughout the nation have reported that
public funding strengthens discussions between them and their constituents,
because they are not forced to spend all of their time fundraising. Public
financing also reduces the pressures to respond to the needs of large
contributors,” Stern said.


Here’s the rest of the announcement of the study from CGS:

California law now allows donors
to contribute $3,900 to State Assembly and Senate candidates, $6,500 to
statewide candidates other than the governor and $25,900 to gubernatorial
candidates during the primary and again during the general election. Federal
law only allows individual donors to give $2,500 to candidates for U.S. Senate
— ten times less than donors can give a candidate for California governor —
although both candidates appeal to the same number of voters during their


Tracy Westen, CGS CEO, commented,
“Allowing couples to give over $100,000 (the maximum for the primary and
the general elections) to gubernatorial candidates creates the appearance that
large contributors have far more influence than small contributors, that small
contributors have little influence over policymaking, that political decisions
are skewed by money and that the political system itself is more responsive
toward the wealthy.”


The CGS model law sets a
contribution limit of $2,500 per candidate per election. This is the same as
the federal limit, which applies to Presidential, U.S. Senate and House
candidates. Such a limit would reduce California contributions by as much as
90% in the case of the governor’s race.


Public Financing


The CGS proposal requires
candidates to raise relatively small amounts from a large number of residents
to qualify for public funding – thus insuring that only serious candidates
receive public money, increasing participation by smaller donors, attracting
more candidates to races and limiting public expenditures.


Once candidates have qualified
for public financing, they would receive public funding in two steps. First, a
base funding amount will be established by determining what winning candidates
spent in the last two elections for the office being sought. All eligible
candidates who face competitive opponents would first receive 50% of this base
amount in a lump sum public contribution.


Second, these candidates will
then be eligible to receive additional public funds that would match small
donations that they raise between $5 and $100. To give candidates the incentive
to raise smaller donations, such gifts from California residents would be
matched at a 4:1 ratio. Thus, a $20 donation would be matched by a $100 public
disbursement up to 100% of the base campaign amount. A candidate in a
competitive race can receive up to 150% of the base amount (a 50% initial grant
plus matching funds up to 100%).


Public financing would give
candidates an opportunity to run competitive campaigns against wealthy
self-financed candidates even if it could not match the spending of these
wealthy candidates. With the public funds, challengers would have a chance to
get started, become visible, and communicate their messages to the electorate.


New Funding Sources


Funding sources for the public
campaign financing program would include a 10% surtax on civil and criminal
penalties plus a legislative appropriation from the General Fund. This funding
model is based on a very successful Arizona public financing program that
consistently has enough funds from the surtax; in fact, Arizona’s public
financing fund has returned over $64 million to the state’s General Fund since


Ban on Off-Year Fundraising


In a significant departure from
current fundraising practices, the model law would ban off-year fundraising for
all state candidates. This ensures that campaign funds are given for campaign
purposes, not to reward contributors with legislation or with ongoing
access to elected officials making important policy decisions.


Closed Loopholes


The model law also closes
significant loopholes in California’s existing campaign finance law. A strict
contribution limit would apply to all money raised by candidates and elected
officials from a single source. This restriction would apply to money raised by
candidate committees as well as amounts for ballot measure committees,
officeholder accounts, political party fundraising, and leadership political
action committees. Therefore, a legislative candidate with a contribution limit
of $2,500 per election could only raise a total of $2,500 per election from a
single source for his or her campaign committee as well as ballot measure
committees, an officeholder account, political party fundraising and a
leadership political action committee combined.


Public campaign financing in
California is not new. Voters and elected officials have approved successful
systems of public financing for campaigns in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland,
Richmond, Sacramento and San Francisco. Public campaign systems have also been
adopted in other cities, including New York, Albuquerque, and Tucson, and in
several states, including Arizona, Maine, Connecticut and New Jersey.


These public campaign financing
systems have attracted new candidates to public office, allowed candidates to
spend more time talking to constituents and less time fundraising, and provided
an alternate source of funds unencumbered by special interest money. It is time
for California to join this trend.

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Money Talks — That’s Why Politicians Never Say Anything Real

You know you’re important when you get emails from
President Obama himself that start “Dear Ron” and his re-election campaign
manager sends you a personal reminder that midnight tonight is your last chance to contribute
a measly five bucks to be eligible to win the “Dinner with Barack and
Joe” contest.

June 30 is the last day of the campaign finance reporting
period and the President isn’t the only politician with his hand out.

Austin Beutner, the former first deputy mayor for just
about everything, also is in the “Dear Ron” email club with invitations to see
him hold court with friends and acquaintances in various venues as he rounds up
support and money as if the wealthy investment banker needs other people’s
money to run for mayor.


Councilwoman Jan Perry, the queen of downtown
 is trying to make a
statement in her June 30 campaign report and so has blasted out thousands of
emails pleading:
  “I Need Your Help By
Midnight Tonight.”

She makes the President seem like a cheap date with his
$5 gimmick by listing $50 as the minimum she wants although I suspect sending a
check for the maximum $1,000 would cement our friendship for life and probably get you the chance to take her to dinner.

Declaring how much she loves L.A., she enumerates a few
of her achievements like creating “jobs and revenue …. mass transit to
alleviate our crowded freeways” while protecting “our environment and natural

Who knew?

I’m all for her goal of running a campaign “that unites
our citizens around a common idea: to provide future generations with greater
opportunity to find success and have a good quality of life in our city.”

It’s big job to achieve that since today there is so
little opportunity for so many and the quality of life is rapidly getting worse
for nearly everybody.

But Jan, we are on a first name basis, is not one to pull
her punches and underscores the real point of her “Dear Ron” email:

The results of the first
fundraising report will set the tone for how the media and pundits analyze this
race. Please click here to join the effort and make your contribution today.


I always wondered who declared that
“money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Now we know it’s the media and
pundits who will turn the mayoral contest into a horse race that has more to do
with how much money the candidates raise and not who actually can lead the city
and solve its problems.


Sadly, my friend Jan has a point


Instead of throwing around clichés about
“future generations,” she could be talking seriously about just how broken City
Hall is and how it will take a popular uprising to change things but nobody
will listen unless she’s raised a lot of money by midnight tonight.

Voter Fraud, Part Two: Phony Election Reforms and Power Grabs

When is reform not reform?

When the City Council, struggling with its total failure and loss of the public’s trust, stacks the ballot with 11 measures plus seven Council seats and LAUSD and Community College board elections.

The mayor, desperate for something, anything, to claim he has achieved anything during his two terms is going all out to control the school board and his claim to be the education mayor and to keep citizen candidates from knocking off his obedient Council supporters like Jose Huizar and Tom LaBonge.

Here’s my analysis of three more measures on the March 8 ballot:


Measure H is a classic City Hall dirty ballot trick — like the one that gave Council members three terms instead of two and was supposed to bar lobbyists from making political campaign contributions so their wives hold the fund-raisers for their clients.

Nothing changed except we are stuck with these failures for 12 years instead of eight.

This new two-issue measure supposedly would bar contractors from making political campaign contributions and provide something close to full public financing of campaigns so that ordinary citizen candidates stand more than a long shot chance of winning.

But it won’t do any of that.

Its stated purpose:

encourage a broader participation in the political process and to avoid
corruption or the
appearance of corruption in city decision making, and protect the
integrity of the City’s procurement and contract processes by placing
limits on the amount any person may contribute or otherwise cause to be
available to candidates for election to

the offices of Mayor, City Attorney, Controller and City Council and promote
accountability to the public by requiring disclosure of campaign activities and

imposing other campaign restrictions.”

participation, end corruption, protect integrity — why that’s exactly
what City Hall needs to restore public confidence and make the focus of
what City Hall does the public benefits that are achieved instead of its
slavishness to special interest.

Measure H, unfortunately doesn’t do any of that.

Contractors and sub-contractors bidding on city contracts from making campaign contributions to candidates but it doesn’t stop them from setting up independent expenditure committees and spending all they want on candidates and issues.

Even if it passes and meant something, the Council made sure it doesn’t apply to contracts with the DWP, Harbor and Airport — the “juice” departments where the big money contracts are and the big money contributions.

What a joke!

The other element of Measure H is even more cynical if that’s possible.

Poor Jose Huizar, he tried to so hard to make himself the clean money reformer so he could coast to re-election, cultivating genuine reformers like Common Cause and others who want to see an even playing field and fair elections.

His effort started out with six strong proposals, got whittled down to three for consideration for the March 8 ballot and he wound up only getting one to make it in a form so watered down as to be worthless in achieving the goals of anyone except the incumbents.

The goal was to provide citizen candidates with something like $100,000 to run their campaigns if the raised a modest amount of money from small contributors. But nothing like that is in this measure. It’s left to the Council to develop rules it likes someday if Measure H passes to enhance the matching funds now available for contributions of $250 or less.

What is left is the city will add $2 million a year — not the $3 million Huizar proposed — to the $13 million now available for matching funds but the council can take the money back any time it wants or even decide to withhold the money entirely.

All it has to do is declare “a fiscal emergency,” which is likely to the case for years ifnot decades to come..

The measure contains high-minded phrases about helping to “restore public trust in governmental and electoral institutions … to
avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption by providing
an alternate source of funding for campaigns and reducing real or perceived ties between elected officials and special interests.”

Now what kind of people would feel they can’t “trust” government or see “corruption” or the “appearance” of it or worry about the “real or perceived ties between elected officials and special interests.”

‘Just about everybody who has paid the least bit of attention, of course. None of them is going to believe the Council and mayor have any intention of implementing this measure to achieve its stated goals.


The employment provisions measure is as timeless as they get while the campaign finance is legally meaningless, so why now?

The answer is simple: There’s no better way to suppress the vote than to make it so long and unintelligible that special interests can pour money into independent expenditure committees can get what they want which is to re-elect the people who have served them so well for so long.

The campaign finance measure does utterly nothing.

The U.S. Supreme Court has lifted restrictions on what unions, corporations and individuals can spend on elections through independent expenditure committees so Measure N merely brings L.A. rules for city and school board elections in line with federal law.

The law is the same whether this is on the ballot or whether it passes or not. The rich and powerful will be able to spend freely to buy elections without even worrying about limits on contributions of $500 or $1,000.

One of the unintended consequences of Charter reform a decade ago was how making top managers at-will employees of the mayor has worked out.

The goal was to give mayors the power to get rid of ineffective top managers who no longer would have Civil Service protection.

But under the current mayor, that power has been used to intimidate and humiliate upper levels of every department, to make  them do the mayor’s bidding or face being fired.

Measure Q — instead of stopping mayoral abuses — extends his power to deputy  fire chiefs and increases the possibility of other patronage abuses by eliminating the need for full and open examinations and review of all candidates seeking promotions in every department.

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The Devils Are in the Details … of Campaign Finance Reports

No surprise, the IBEW which stands to profit handsomely from the Measure B charter reform and DWP solar energy monopoly fraud and is its author and main financial backer gave the maximum to the campaigns of Jack Weiss and Wendy Greuel.

Nor is it a surprise that the remarkably ineffectual sleepwalker Weiss has raised $1 million almost entirely from lawyers who stand to reap millions from the City Attorney Office’s dependence on outside attorneys and even more from settlements and lawsuits against the city.

The payback on $1,000 contributions would make even Bernie Madoff is his heyday drool.

In contrast to Weiss, his best-funded challenge for City Attorney, Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich has half as much money to run on but only gotten a smattering of money from lawyers. More money came from law enforcement interests and those who don’t stand to cash in monetarily from having a friend in high places.

Greuel, too, counts a lot of lawyers among the contributors to her $700,000 war chest for her campaign to succeed City Controller Laura who earned a reputation as the people’s watchdog, not the political machine’s lapdog.

The special interests that count or have counted on Greuel to deliver the goods with a wink and a nod to their excesses include a lot of people and companies in property development. People like the Westfield shopping center interests and those involved in the NBC-Universal massive development project, even new City Planning Commission member Sean Burton and his wife among others that are part of the well-connect empire of Henry Cisneros.

Both Weiss and Greuel also collect healthy sums from the consultants, contractors and others who live off City Hall’s sweetheart deals. Even lobbyists’ spouses are helping them out since the lobbyists themselves are barred from contributing thanks to the Measure R fraud two years ago that wrapped giving council members a third term about phony ethics reforms.

You won’t know any of this reading the four paragraphs on the campaign statements filed Monday reading the Daily News or the Times which had a somewhat longer story. In both cases, all that interested them was the horse race for how much money the campaigns have raised.

But the truth of what kind of government you’ll get is in the details of who they solicited money from and owe favors to. That’s where the devils are and I urge you to click on the links to Weiss and Greuel in the first paragraph and report back to me if you spot some devils I missed.