L.A. Councilman Proposes Campaign Funding Change – Next City

L.A. Councilman Proposes Campaign Funding Change

(Photo by Jon Sullivan)

One week after a group of Los Angeles pols swore off donations from real estate developers, one council member wants to take campaign finance reform a step further and make all donations taxpayer-funded.

“Instead of tweaking the system, let’s fix it and replace it with a better one,” Mike Bonin said Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bonin will be seeking reelection in March. His proposal would have candidates gather a minimum number of small donations from their constituents to prove the viability of their campaign. Then they would have to stop fundraising (and promise not to chip in any money themselves).

Practical or no, his proposal follows a groundswell of support for some degree of reform in how Los Angeles politicians finance their campaigns.

Last week, public affairs consultant Mitchell Schwartz, running what the Times calls a “long-shot bid” against current Mayor Eric Garcetti, vowed not to take any campaign funds from real estate developers. Several candidates running against Bonin have made similar promises.

The Times notes that pledging not to take developer funds is a tried-and-true strategy in L.A.

“Two years ago, in a tough race for the Los Angeles City Council, health clinic executive David Ryu made a promise that helped propel him to victory: He swore off campaign contributions from real estate developers,” the paper reports.

It’s also a way of “turning the advantages held by incumbents against them.” Simply put, many of the people swearing off development donations just haven’t raised as much.

But whether propelled by a desire for reform or a last-ditch desire to win (or both), it’s a strategy that echoes concerns across the United States. Following a year in which Bernie Sanders ran a national campaign on small donations averaging $27 each, Portland and Seattle both have election reform policies in the works. In December, the Portland City Council approved an initiative that will publicly match small personal campaign contributions on a 6-1 scale. Seattle, meanwhile, is planning a 2017 experiment with “democracy vouchers” in which every eligible voter will receive four $25 vouchers to give to local candidates.

“We’ve seen what happens with our elected officials and the special interests that are able to buy and sell our elected officials. We’ve talked to elected officials who literally say they are out spending most of their time raising money, not talking to their constituents,” Alissa Haslam, executive director of Win/Win Network (a Seattle coalition that organized around the initiative) said last year. “We’re hoping it will encourage politicians to go speak to people at their door step, because every voter is now a potential donor.”

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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