COMMERCE — City Councilwoman Ruth R. Aldaco believes that the time has long passed for election reform in this tiny industrial city of 12,000 residents, where one candidate spent more than $22,000 to win re-election to the council last year.
But the ordinances she proposed recently to prohibit the use of the city seal on campaign literature and place limits on campaign contributions and spending have died in the council chambers.
"I would like to try again on both of them. I don't know if I'll have to wait for the next election or what I'll have to do, but I don't want to give up because I feel it's important for the residents," Aldaco said.
Aldaco said the use of the city seal on campaign literature and the absence of contribution and spending limits weigh heavily in favor of incumbents, a view that has drawn stiff, philosophical opposition from some of her colleagues.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 8, 1987 Home Edition Long Beach Part 10 Page 2 Column 4 Zones Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
The article "Reform Makes No Headway in Commerce," which ran March 5 in the Southeast and Long Beach Sections, incorrectly reported that Commerce City Councilman Arturo Marquez supported a proposed ordinance that would have barred the use of the city seal on campaign literature.
Council members Ruth R. Aldaco and Michael V. Guerra voted for the proposed ordinance, which was defeated on a 3-2 vote last December.
"If an individual can raise $2 million to run for the City Council and he wants to spend that money on a City Council race, that's up to him," Councilman Robert J. Cornejo said when the contribution and spending ordinance was debated last month. "That's fair to whomever wants to run for office."
In December, Aldaco presented the five-member council with an ordinance that would restrict the use of the city seal to official city stationery and documents, proclamations by the mayor, city vehicles and equipment, or as authorized by the council.
Aldaco said the ordinance would have barred the use of the seal on incumbents' campaign literature. She said its use carried an unfair advantage because it implied city approval of the candidate.
"The city seal is deceiving to the residents," Aldaco said in a recent interview.
The ordinance failed on a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Arturo Marquez supporting Aldaco.
Mayor James B. Dimas used the city seal on campaign literature he sent out to win re-election to the City Council last year. He said that as an incumbent he has earned the right to use it on campaign literature as long as the city wasn't paying the bill.
"That's part of our office," he said. "We all have business cards with the city seal on it that represents our office."
Aldaco also directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance to place limits on campaign contributions and spending.
The ordinance would have limited contributions from a single person--excluding the candidate himself--to $500 for one candidate in one race. It also would have limited a candidate's campaign spending to $10,000 per election, and required surplus campaign funds to be returned to donors or given to the city or charities.
Aldaco said the ordinance would help reduce the advantage to an incumbent, whose position attracts contributions. She said it also would benefit potential contributors, who feel obligated to support the rising campaign costs of politicians with whom they may need to work in the future.
The ordinance failed for lack of a second.
"In the last election I spent $17,000 just keeping up with the rest of them," Aldaco said. "That's a lot of work. It would give everyone an equal chance if there were a limit." State law places no limits on donations or spending, but candidates are required to report both, and they must itemize contributions exceeding $100.
Several Los Angeles County cities have imposed campaign restrictions similar to those proposed by Aldaco. In 1985, for example, the Los Angeles City Council imposed limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates for city office.
In the race for two Commerce City Council seats last April, Dimas led four other candidates in contributions and spending with $23,378 and $22,437, respectively. Aldaco and defeated candidate Ruben C. Batres, who ran on the same political slate, were next with $17,034 in combined contributions and expenditures. Losing candidate G. R. Lawrence Maese raised and spent about $4,500, while Mary R. Guerrero, who also was defeated, raised and spent about $1,300, according to candidate statements filed with the city clerk.
Commerce pays City Council members $412 a month.
Plans Assembly Race
Dimas said he is concerned about the high cost of winning an election to office, but he does not support placing limits on campaign contributions and spending.
Dimas plans to run for the 56th Assembly District seat, vacated by the election of Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles) to the Los Angeles City Council.
"If the community believes in him (the candidate), he shouldn't have any problem raising funds," Dimas said earlier this week. "We (incumbents) have to go out and walk the streets."
At the Feb. 17 council meeting, Cornejo lashed out at Aldaco, noting that spending in her joint campaign with Batres exceeded $17,000.
"If this ordinance had been in effect at that time, you probably wouldn't have got elected," said Cornejo, who added that he spent less than $6,000 to defeat Councilman Arthur Loya in 1984.
While some of the council members said they opposed the intent of the ordinances, others said Aldaco tried to push through changes in city law without consulting with them about possible compromises.
"I believe we do need some kind of reform and hopefully we'll be able to bring it up in the next month and get it through," said Marquez, who added that he thought the $10,000 spending limit was too low considering the high cost of running a campaign.