Los Angeles City Council Approves New Campaign Finance Reform to Empower Small Donors

LOS ANGELES- The Los Angeles City Council last week instructed the City Attorney to draft an ordinance to reform the City’s Matching Funds Program, in which small dollar donations to candidates running for City positions can qualify for more matching funds, paid out of the City’s Public Matching Campaign Funds Trust Fund. It also lowers the barriers for those seeking to qualify for matching funds, in order to increase the power of small-dollar donors and the reach of first-time candidates. The ordinance stems from a motion co-presented in January 2017 by Councilmembers Paul Krekorian, David Ryu and Joe Buscaino.

“This campaign finance reform measure aims to empower our communities and reduce the influence of special interests and large, private donors in our local elections,” said Councilmember Paul Krekorian. “By increasing the public matching funds rate, we are strengthening an important mechanism gives regular Angelenos more say in the democratic process.”

The ordinance would increase the matching funds rate from 2:1 in primary elections and 4:1 in general elections to 6:1 in both primary and general elections for all candidates who qualify for matching funds. Under the new rules, donations up to 1/7th of the maximum individual contribution limit can be matched six times the donation amount for qualifying candidates, up to $114 in City Council races, and $214 in Citywide races.

In effect, a qualifying City Council candidate receiving a $114 check from an individual donor can see the contribution matched 6:1, or $684, for a total donation of nearly $800. This provides the same benefit a candidate would receive from a donor who can cut a check at the maximum limit of $800, and allows a small-dollar donor to have an equal impact as a maximum contributor.

“The future of Los Angeles should be decided by all Angelenos, not just the ones with the largest checks,” Councilmember Ryu said. “Increasing the matching funds rate empowers new voices in our political discourse and amplifies the influence of everyday Angelenos six-fold. I’m so thankful to my colleagues on the City Council for making this effort a reality.”

It also lowers the burden that candidates seeking to qualify for matching funds face, by reducing the number of donations needed to qualify for matching funds from 100 to 200, and eliminating the additional 500 signature requirement.

“I am happy that these changes are being made to give grass roots and under-represented candidates a better opportunity to become elected officials,” said Councilmember Buscaino. “Having more diverse voices in the room creates better policy and outcomes for all Angelenos.”

The City’s Matching Funds Program, which was created by voters in 1990, was developed in part to help first-time candidates compete with more well-funded campaigns, by allowing for matching funds up to a certain amount. However, burdensome requirements and lack of interest left the program underutilized. At the end of the current fiscal year, the designated fund is set to hold over $19.7 million.

“Creating a super match will reward candidates for spending more time cultivating constituents instead of chasing out of town, special interest money.” said Kathay Feng, Executive Director of Common Cause, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding core values of American democracy and supporter of the legislation. “We’ve seen this work in New York City, and it’s about time Los Angeles caught up.”

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