LONG BEACH — Concerned about the costs of their recent campaigns, first-term Councilmen Ray Grabinski and Evan Anderson Braude say they will support a new push to limit campaign contributions in city elections.
Braude and Grabinski join Wallace Edgerton, Thomas Clark and Warren Harwood--a majority of the nine-member City Council--in a loosely knit coalition that favors a cap on how much money individuals and organizations can give in municipal races.
With a proposal for a full-time mayor on the November ballot, all five say the time is right to deal with the issue. They say spending in a citywide mayor's race would undoubtedly dwarf the record $500,000 spent in this spring's four district elections of council members.
No consensus has yet been reached, however, on just what form limits on contributions would take. And most interested council members say it may take several weeks to research the issue and line up votes for passage.
Waiting for Special Election
Most also want to wait until after a special Aug. 26 election to fill the 6th District seat before bringing a proposal before the council. The apparent front-runners in that race have said they would support limits on contributions.
Braude, remarking that he was appalled at having to spend about $71,000 to gain 3,482 1st District votes in June, said he expects to bring a proposal to the council by early October. "I want to go a little slow at first. It's important to try to craft something other members can live with," he said.
Since 1984, two other campaign-funding limit proposals have stalled in council committees. A compromise that Harwood and Clark drafted last winter, which would place a ceiling of $750 on donations to council members and a $1,500 cap on contributions in citywide races, has languished in the council's Charter Amendment Committee.
Clark, however, sensing a new mood of acceptance, had that proposal moved Tuesday out of the Charter Amendment Committee to the Finance Committee, where it will be reviewed and a hearing date set. "That's a big step," Clark said. "It puts it in an action mode."
But Harwood, the chief council backer of contribution limits for the last two years, said in an interview that he does not want to rush into another failed effort at reform.
'Let it Evolve'
"Some people are committed to reform, but their definitions of it may be quite different," Harwood said. "And I've learned from my past experiences that it is not easy. Unless there's a consensus for it, there's no use pressing it. Let it evolve a little bit, and then if we find a majority buzzing around, then we'll see if we can put something together."
Conversely, council members say they are aware that quick action could help in their campaign for a full-time mayor. A coalition of community groups, including the 625-member Long Beach Area Citizens Involved (LBACI), has said it probably will reverse its opposition and support the ballot proposal if the council adopts contribution limits.
Without such limits, said LBACI President Sid Solomon, candidates backed by the city's wealthy would dominate citywide mayoral elections.
Aside from such considerations, supporters of contribution limits say their position was reinforced on Friday, when final spending reports for spring elections were filed. The eight leading candidates in four council races spent a total of $490,000, and one, Harwood's in the 9th District, did not even require a runoff.
The spending reports revealed a record single donation--$10,000 to Braude, stepson of Rep. Glenn M. Anderson, D-Harbor City, from a national Democratic Party committee. And they showed record expenditures for a candidate and for a race--$110,065 by incumbent Jan Hall and $96,290 by challenger Jim Serles in the affluent 3rd District.
Spending Own Money
They also showed that some candidates spent large amounts of their own money on campaigns: Serles loaned himself $38,054 and Braude's opponent, attorney Ron Batson, a Republican who also had strong partisan backing for a nonpartisan office, loaned himself $41,400.
Other top-dollar contributions included Hall's use for several months of a campaign trailer, land and equipment provided by developer William Lansdale with a total value of $13,152. Braude also received a $10,100 loan from Long Beach-based Harbor Bank.
If the $750 contribution and loan cap backed by Clark and Harwood had been in place, many of those donations would not have been allowed. Another provision would have prevented the transfer of one candidate's campaign funds to the coffers of another, a device used by Mayor Ernie Kell and others to fund their allies this spring. And it would have prevented spending more than $15,000 in personal funds without a declaration of intent a month before election day.