LONG BEACH — Proponents of a citywide campaign reform initiative say they suffered a setback last week when Proposition 73 passed in the primary election.
They had been on the verge of persuading the City Council to approve a November ballot measure that would have restricted campaign spending and provided public matching funds in council and mayoral races.
But Proposition 73 prohibits the use of public funds for campaigns in state or local races. "Of course it's a major disappointment," said Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, an activist group involved in finance reform.
Michael Ferrall, director of the Long Beach chapter of Common Cause, was more hopeful.
"I'm not sure it's dead," he said of public financing. "We're not sure that (Proposition) 73 negates any local effort for campaign finance reform in charter cities."
Two campaign finance reform measures were approved by voters on June 7. Among their provisions, Proposition 73 banned public funding of campaigns while Proposition 68 authorized use of public matching money. Since Proposition 73 carried by a higher vote--58% versus 53%--it supersedes Proposition 68.
Although the exact effect of the two measures is open to court interpretation, the loss came as campaign reform proponents seemed to be gaining momentum.
A Los Angeles Times Poll conducted May 8 found that 51% of the registered voters favored campaign finance reform, 7% were opposed, and the rest said they were not aware of the issue or had no opinion.
Campaign finance reform also became an issue in the mayor's race, which featured record fund raising.
Ernie Kell collected about $539,000, including a $150,000 loan to himself, in his successful campaign to become full-time mayor. Opposing Councilwoman Jan Hall raised about $336,000. Final tallies of collections and spending are not yet available.
Hall and dentist Jim Serles set the previous record, spending about $250,000 in their 1986 race for the District 3 council seat, which Hall won.
The City Council held a rare night session last month to debate a proposed campaign finance initiative.
Under the plan, which was hammered out during months of meetings, contributions to council candidates would have been limited to $750 per individual or committee. Council candidates also would have been able to spend no more than $1 per resident of a district, or about $46,000.
Mayoral candidates would not have been allowed to collect more than $1,500 from a group or individual and spending would have been limited to $1 per registered voter of the city, or about $172,000. Under the reform proposal, council candidates would have been eligible to receive up to $23,000 in public matching campaign money, and mayoral candidates would have received up to $86,000. To qualify, council candidates would have been required to collect 50 contributions and mayoral candidates 200 contributions of $10 or more.
Proponents said that the courts have decreed that campaign spending cannot be limited unless public matching funds are available. They said they favor matching funds as a way of limiting the power of freely contributing special-interest groups.
While fuming at the prohibition regarding matching funds, Solomon said "there are some positive things" in Proposition 73, such as a $1,000 limitation on individual campaign contributions. He added, however, that it falls short in controlling campaign spending.
Common Cause's Ferrall said he will not concede the loss of public campaign funding until he hears the opinion of his group's lawyers. He said he believes that some Proposition 73 provisions may not apply to charter cities such as Long Beach.
"Everybody was caught unaware with this thing and everybody's scrambling to find out what the impact of (propositions) 73 and 68 will be," Ferrall said.
City Councilman Tom Clark, who chaired the committee that drafted the proposed city reform plan, was also optimistic.
He said he believes the City Council can approve even more controls on campaign contributions than those included in Proposition 73.
City Atty. John R. Calhoun said his office has not researched the issue of Proposition 73's effect on public financing so he cannot provide an opinion to the council.