A record number of candidates agreed to spending limits in this year's Los Angeles municipal elections, while current and former elected officials benefited from an unprecedented amount of independent expenditures, according to a report Thursday by the city Ethics Commission.
The analysis of the 2001 election, in which voters decided races for mayor, city attorney, city controller and six council seats, provided both encouraging and troubling news about the city election process more than a decade after Los Angeles voters approved a comprehensive package of campaign finance reforms.
LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said she was encouraged that a record 91% of all candidates agreed to spending limits, although some of them were lifted when opponents spent in excess of the limits.
"With the highest participation we have seen in the matching funds program, it's a new day for our city campaign system," Pelham said.
One cause for concern is the record $3.2 million spent by businesses, unions and political parties on behalf of candidates. Such expenditures are not coordinated with the person's campaign, and the donors are not subject to campaign contribution limits.
"With independent expenditures being so significant, it can lead to an uneven playing field," Pelham said.
A report released Wednesday by the Center for Governmental Studies also took note of the increase in independent expenditures, saying it threatened to undermine efforts to make local elections more competitive.
However, the Ethics Commission report found that such independent expenditures had mixed results in this year's elections.
Of the 24 candidates supported by independent expenditures, 14 lost and 10 won, the report found.
Candidates who lost despite receiving more independent expenditure help than opponents included Hector Cepeda in the 15th District, Mike Woo in the 13th and Tom Hayden in the 5th.
"It's not a predictor of success," Pelham said of independent expenditures.
The findings may be skewed by the fact that multiple candidates in the mayor's race, including winner James K. Hahn, benefited from independent expenditures.
The analysis also found that the majority of independent expenditures went to candidates who held elected office at the time of the election or in the past. That reverses a trend in which most independent expenditures went to candidates who never held office before, and may be due to the fact that term limits are causing more former officeholders to run for city posts.
The report will be used by the Ethics Commission to determine whether city campaign finance laws require fine-tuning. That discussion begins today, when the panel co-hosts a daylong conference at USC on campaign finance reform.