The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday approved an ordinance that further lowers the bar on requirements for candidates to receive taxpayer matching campaign funds.
Last year, the council approved a new threshold requiring candidates to raise at least $20,000 in donations to qualify for matching funds, down from $25,000, but not the roughly $11,500 Councilman Mike Bonin had recommended in a proposed amendment.
The Ethics Commission in February unanimously recommended lowering the amount to $11,400, and the City Council agreed on the new amount in a 14-0 vote. The ordinance needs to be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to become official.
“The matching funds program helps remove the toxic influence of money in politics, and the reforms the council supported today will make it easier for more people to participate in the city’s matching funds program,” Bonin said in a statement after the vote. “We are making big strides in progressive campaign finance reform in Los Angeles, thanks to the tireless efforts of dedicated activists and organizations like the California Clean Money Campaign, Money Out Voters In, and the UnRigLA coalition.”
The $20,000 amount was suggested by Council President Herb Wesson, who said in December that he wanted the alterations on the books so they would apply to a special election in June for the vacant seat of Councilman Mitchell Englander, who stepped down at the end of the year to take a job in the private sector.
Wesson said the lowered amount would “ensure that this door has been opened that has been closed for so long,” although he said he wanted the Ethics Commission to vet and make recommendations where it relates to citywide offices and the council elections that could apply beyond the June special election.
Bonin and dozens of organizations called for the required level to be reduced, arguing that other big cities, including Washington, D.C., and New York City, have thresholds that are far lower than in Los Angeles.
The changes made by the council last year also reduced how much of each eligible donation the city would match, going from $250 for City Council races to around $115.
Critics argued that the lowered maximum contribution would continue to make it harder for candidates without deep pockets to be viable because they still would have to collect a high number of donations. Under the $25,000 threshold, candidates needed at least 100 donations, but the changes made last year to $20,000 meant they needed 176 donations.
The recommendations made by the Ethics Commission and included in the new ordinance return the number of required donations to 100.
“It was a big step in the right direction to expand the matching funds program. But we believe it is an unintentional but cruel irony that in doing so we actually made it more difficult for grassroots candidates to qualify,” Bonin’s deputy chief of staff, David Graham-Caso, told the Ethics Commission before the February vote.
Another rule change approved by the council in December eliminated the need for candidates to get signatures in order to quality for matching funds.
Previously, qualified candidates who collected 500 valid signatures during the nominating petition process received a match rate of 1:1 in the primary and the general election, and qualified candidates who collected 1,000 valid signatures received a match rate of 2:1 in the primary and 4:1 in the general.
The new rules approved in December let all qualified candidates receive a match rate of 6:1 in the primary and the general, and the total amount candidates can receive in matching funds also increased. For City Council candidates, the amount increased from $100,000 in the primary and $125,000 in the general election to $151,000 in the primary or $189,000 in the general.