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Panel refines election reform

Ethics commissioners say public financing of campaigns should not come from raising taxes.

October 25, 2006|Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, refining a plan for full public financing of election campaigns, tentatively agreed Tuesday that the money should come primarily from the city's general fund rather than by raising taxes.

But the panel delayed a decision until Nov. 14 on whether to send a public financing plan to the City Council for consideration.

If the commission acts on that date, the council would have only one day to direct the city attorney to draft a public financing measure for the March ballot.

The program, which could cost up to $17.1 million a year under one scenario, would have to be approved by a majority of city voters if the general fund was tapped to pay for campaigns. If a special tax was used, approval of two-thirds of the voters would be needed, a threshold that commission officials and advocates consider all but impossible to achieve.

In an effort to reduce special-interest influence at City Hall, the Ethics Commission has been crafting the plan to replace the current system of partial public financing of city campaigns.

Under the latest proposal, council candidates would have to raise at least $25,000 from small contributors -- giving up to $250 each -- to demonstrate enough wide support to qualify for full public financing.

Candidates for city attorney and controller would need to raise $75,000. Candidates for mayor would have to raise $150,000 to qualify for public funds. The maximum contribution in citywide races would be $500.

The commission balked at the idea of requiring a number of contributions from donors giving as little as $5 each.

Council candidates could receive up to $350,000 in public money for the primary election and $300,000 for a runoff.

Candidates for mayor could receive as much as $3.5 million for the primary and $3 million for the general election.

Campaign reform groups, which had wanted full public financing of Los Angeles elections to appear on next spring's city ballot, are now urging the commission not to rush the proposal.

Part of their concern stems from uncertainty about whether California voters will approve Proposition 89, a "clean money" initiative for financing races for legislative seats and statewide offices, that appears on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Ethics Commission President Gil Garcetti said in an interview that full public financing is necessary to reduce the "undue influence" of campaign contributions at all levels of government, including Los Angeles City Hall. Garcetti, a former Los Angeles County district attorney, is the father of City Council President Eric Garcetti.

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jeffrey.rabin@latimes.com

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