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Council Eases Fund-Raising Restrictions : Long Beach: Members can raise $5,000 a year for job-related expenses. Backers of voter-approved limits criticize decision.

March 23, 1995|EMILY ADAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a move that angered campaign reform supporters, the Long Beach City Council decided to lift some fund-raising restrictions that voters had placed on local elected officials last year.

Council members voted 6 to 2 Tuesday to liberalize the campaign finance reform law by allowing local elected officials to raise and spend $5,000 a year for job-related expenses.

The reform measure, approved by 55% of the voters in June, had limited such spending to $5,000 during a four-year term. But some council members said the amount was not nearly enough to cover office expenses.

Reform supporters argued, however, that the council was defying a key intent of the measure--to stop political fund raising for at least part of an officeholder's term.

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"We were naive enough to believe that if voters supported this measure, they (council members) would respect the will of the people," said Paul Schmidt, a professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach and one of the reform law's most ardent supporters.

"But now, they can feed at the public trough while still getting funding from their regular sources," he said.

The finance reform measure--Proposition M--created a voluntary program offering matching funds for candidates who agreed to limit spending. Fund raising also was restricted to 18 months before an election.

The act allowed elected officials to keep $5,000 of surplus campaign funds for office expenses during their four-year terms.

But some council members said $1,250 a year was inadequate and suggested that officials be allowed to raise $25,000 a year for an office expense fund. That proposal was scaled back to $10,000 and then $5,000 a year.

Community groups expect council members to buy tickets for fund-raising dinners and make other donations, said Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, the main supporter of Tuesday's action.

"As an officeholder, I'm expected to participate in everything," Topsy-Elvord said. "At Christmastime, I was asked to donate 25 turkeys to a group feeding the homeless.

"Where is that money going to come from? I give away all of my salary as it is," she said.

But critics said council members will now be allowed to raise money for office expenses all four years of their terms.

"That means we never get a break from fund raising," said Elizabeth Lambe of California Common Cause, which backed the June campaign reform effort.

Council members Jenny Oropeza, Thomas J. Clark, Les Robbins, Jeffrey A. Kellogg and Jerry Shultz joined Topsy-Elvord in voting for the change. Councilmen Alan Lowenthal and Douglas S. Drummond voted against. Councilman Mike Donelon was absent.

"I was against this measure from the beginning," Shultz said before voting Tuesday. "People voted for it, not knowing how much it would cost them."

The change required the approval of two-thirds of the nine council members.

Schmidt said supporters of the reform measure may have erred in allowing the council some latitude to make changes.

"We trusted the council to accept the will of the people," Schmidt said. "But now, the council is spitting in our faces."

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