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A Danger in Raising Contribution Limits

April 22, 2003

Re "Campaign Reforms Target Influence of Special Interests," April 16: During the L.A. City Council's discussion of proposed campaign finance reform a subtle but alarming shift occurred in the debate: from lifting the contribution limits solely for candidates whose opponents benefit from large, independent expenditures, as proposed by the city Ethics Commission, to an across-the-board increase in contribution limits. While the Ethics Commission's proposed independent expenditure reforms are a necessary step toward restoring public trust in City Hall, a wholesale increase in contribution limits would only fuel the perception that our elected officials are beholden to moneyed special interests.

If the ceiling on contributions were raised across the board, we could expect that big-money special interests, many of which contribute at or near the maximum now, would up their contribution. This would further widen the gap between the far smaller average contributions of the ordinary citizen and the contributions of the special interests. The danger is that candidates would have a greater incentive to seek out special-interest money and would become more dependent on influence-peddlers.

We concur with the conclusion of the city Ethics Commission charged with protecting the public trust that there is no justification for a wholesale increase in contribution limits at this time. Rather, there are sound reasons against it. If the City Council's real goal is to encourage broader participation in the political process while discouraging dependence on deep pockets, then it should deal with the independent expenditure issue. Joan H. Leonard

Daniel P. Tokaji

California Common Cause

Los Angeles

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