REDONDO BEACH — An effort by Mayor Barbara Doerr to limit campaign contributions in city elections was narrowly defeated by the City Council on Tuesday after Councilwoman Kay Horrell led a fiery assault on both the proposal and the mayor.
Horrell, who walked out of a council meeting last month in another dispute with Doerr, accused the mayor of playing politics at the expense of city business.
"Why the hell aren't we talking about the use of school sites?" said Horrell, her voice growing angry. "Why don't we get on with good business of the city? This is political business."
In response, Doerr said limits on campaign contributions are designed to restrict the "undue influence" of heavy donors. "We are working toward clean politics," she said.
The council debated for more than an hour a memorandum from Doerr that discussed campaign finance limitation ordinances in other cities. Doerr made no specific proposals for a Redondo ordinance, except to say that it should restrict donations from businesses that contract with the city.
Although she only alluded to it Tuesday night, Doerr has been an outspoken critic of donations to City Council candidates from leaseholders and other businesses in King Harbor. All three winners in council elections last May, including Horrell, received financial support--directly or indirectly--from harbor interests.
Doerr said limits on individual donations would help broaden the base of community support for candidates by forcing them to seek contributions from more people. "If you just have large contributors, you are not reaching out to the community," Doerr said.
City Treasurer Alice DeLong, an ally of the mayor who made an unsuccessful bid for council in May, told the City Council that the limits would also help keep down the cost of running for office. "If you get more money, you spend more money," DeLong said.
According to campaign statements from last spring's council and mayoral elections provided by the city clerk's office, victors heavily out-collected--and outspent--their opponents, with the lone exception of Doerr. Former Councilman Jerry Goddard outspent Doerr by a 2-1 margin in his unsuccessful bid to unseat her. He also collected twice as much in donations.
In the council races, Horrell outspent incumbent Ray Amys by a 3-1 margin, and collected seven times as much in donations. Councilman Jack Chapman outspent DeLong and Councilman Archie Snow outspent Val Dombrowski by 7-1 margins. Both Chapman and Snow also collected seven times as much in donations as their opponents.
But Horrell said at the council meeting that campaign finance limitation ordinances are seriously flawed because they do not control the amount of money a candidate contributes to his own campaign. By placing limits on individual contributions, the city would price some candidates--those without personal savings--right out of the election, Horrell said.
Horrell also attacked the proposal for adding yet another layer of regulation to campaigns, which are already closely monitored by the state, she said. State law requires candidates to file campaign statements that list contributors of $100 or more.
"If someone is receiving that so-called 'heavy-weighted' influence from one arena, it is there" in the reports, she said. "It is not a matter of hiding anything under the rug."
On several occasions Tuesday, Doerr and Horrell exchanged biting remarks and angry glares. At one point, Doerr told Horrell that "you can yell and scream all you want," but the basic issues will not change.
Horrell, not to be outdone, replied: "I am trying to get through your head. And it is not easy."
Snow also joined the debate, accusing the mayor of using the proposed ordinance to launch personal attacks on her colleagues on the council. "Your basic statement is that you don't trust us," Snow said. "I don't know how you decide the personal things you do are impersonal."
Snow, however, agreed that the issue warranted consideration. He proposed that each elected official in the city appoint three people to a special citizens' committee that would study campaign finance ordinances from other cities.
Councilman Ron Cawdrey joined Snow, but the others would have nothing to do with the proposal. Horrell and Councilwoman Marcia Martin, who said campaigns are already regulated enough, immediately opposed the idea, and Chapman eventually voted against it, saying he needed more time to consider the issue.
Doerr said after the City Council meeting Tuesday that she will not give up on the idea of a campaign finance limitation ordinance.