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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

In L.A. Elections, Making L.A. Money Worth More

Paresh Dave |
May 3, 2013 | 10:27 p.m. PDT

Executive Director

Primary election candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Emanuel Pleitez, Kevin James and Jan Perry. (Didi Beck/Neon Tommy)
Primary election candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Emanuel Pleitez, Kevin James and Jan Perry. (Didi Beck/Neon Tommy)

In city of L.A. elections, a dollar donated from a resident of New York is worth the same to a candidate as a dollar donated from a resident of the city of L.A. But groups advocating for increased government accountability hope that basic formula will change by the 2015 election to offer a new incentive for Angelenos to participate politically.

If formally put in place, the new rule would allow candidates for citywide and council offices to receive taxpayer-supported matching funds only for contributions made by residents of L.A.

"It would incentivize candidates to talk to the people they are elected to represent," said Anjuli Kronheim, the group's L.A. organizer.

The changes would have hurt a candidate like Emanuel Pleitez who drew three-fifths of the money for his mayoral primary campaign from matching funds. But only about a fifth of his donors were from L.A. The other four candidates in the primary each had about two in three donations come from L.A. donors.

Matching funds come from L.A. taxpayers, so it makes sense to tie their disbursement to money raised from L.A. residents, Kronheim said.

"Others can still donate to whom they believe," she said.

Those others include people such as Ted Bardacke, a senior program associate at sustainable-building firm Global Green USA. When he donated $100 to Eric Garcetti's primary campaign, he listed a city of Santa Monica address.

"Whether or not there was a match available had no impact on my donation to Eric," he said. "The mayor in L.A. has an outsize influence on what we do in Santa Monica when it comes to transportation, clean water, clean beaches and sustainability issues in general."

Bardacke said it was the first time he donated to a campaign, pointing out that campaign finance laws have more perverse incentives than good ones. He said people advocating for campaign finance reform should focus their energies on spending by super-PACS. People and organizations can donate unlimited amounts of money to these independent expenditure groups. A quarter of the money spent in the mayoral primary and run-off election so far has come through super-PACS.

To help counteract that, a new rule was put in place for the first time this election to incentivize small donors. Donations of less than $250 are matched at a $2-to-$1 rate instead of dollar for dollar. California Common Cause reported in March that small donations were up compared to past elections.

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