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Campaign Reform Plan Placed on County Ballot

Elections: Supervisors agree to put proposal before voters in November. It includes limits on contributions and spending.

July 24, 1996|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After reform groups privately negotiated new provisions, a tougher measure that would impose the first-ever limits on contributions and spending in campaigns for Los Angeles County offices won approval Tuesday from a divided Board of Supervisors and will appear on the November ballot.

Representatives of California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, who had expressed major objections to the proposal three weeks ago, said they would no longer oppose the measure because of the changes, which include enforcement tools, tighter contribution limits and a shorter fund-raising period.

Jean Berger, president of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County, said putting the measure on the ballot was a first step toward campaign finance reform that could "help our citizens regain trust in government."

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who had promised to pursue campaign reform when he ran for supervisor two years ago, called the final version a significant improvement.

"It will fundamentally change the way campaigns are financed in the county," Yaroslavsky said. "It will shorten the time candidates and incumbents spend raising money. It will restrict the sources of funds."

In marked contrast to many local governments, including the city of Los Angeles, the county has no limits on the amount of money that can be given to a candidate for supervisor, sheriff, district attorney or assessor and no limit on what can be spent in a county race.

As a consequence, candidates for county office routinely raise large contributions from individuals, labor unions, developers and other special interest groups that either do business with the county or have a stake in county decisions. High-profile races for supervisor and district attorney can cost more than $1 million.

"It's long overdue," Yaroslavsky said of the measure.

The supervisor said he hopes county voters will approve the measure to help restore public confidence in government and eliminate the perception that campaign contributions can affect decisions.

The measure would impose a $200 limit on campaign contributions that could be accepted if a candidate refuses to agree to abide by an overall limit on spending. Other candidates in that race who promise to stay within the spending limit would be able to raise contributions up to $1,000 each.

All contributions from lobbyists who attempt to influence county officials would be prohibited, along with checks from political action committees unless they have at least 100 members.

In an effort to compensate for the impact if a wealthy candidate enters the race, the limit on individual contributions for rivals would increase tenfold to $10,000 if a candidate pumped in $100,000 of their own money into their campaign.

As originally proposed by Yaroslavsky and his co-author, Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the measure would have raised the limit by 10 times if a candidate gave $20,000 to his or her own campaign. The first draft also called for the elimination of all contribution limits if a wealthy candidate gave his or her campaign $100,000 or more. In the final version, that figure was raised to $300,000.

The measure that will appear on the ballot was also backed by retiring Supervisor Deane Dana, whose chief deputy, Donald Knabe, is locked in an expensive campaign with former Rolling Hills Mayor Gordana Swanson.

Board Chairman Mike Antonovich opposed the measure on the grounds that any limit on contributions would protect incumbents and hurt challengers. "It adds red tape and a bureaucracy to the electoral process," he said.

Supervisor Gloria Molina left the long board meeting before the issue was discussed.

To restrict the time period in which officeholders and candidates can raise money, the measure allows funds to be raised only 15 months before and six months after an election for supervisor. In races for countywide offices such as sheriff, assessor and district attorney, the fund-raising period would be 18 months before and six months after an election.

After the discussions with citizen groups, Yaroslavsky and Burke agreed that the county registrar-recorder, which oversees elections, and the district attorney will be responsible for enforcement of the law, if voters approve it. The measure sets maximum fines of up to $5,000 per violation of the campaign rules.

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