Special Ethics Commission Meeting on Full Public Financing

On Tuesday, October 24, 2006, the City Ethics Commission held a special meeting to consider specific recommendations for a program that would provide full public financing for City campaigns. Following presentation of a Commission staff report, public comment, and their discussion of the issues, the Commission agreed to schedule the item again for possible action at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, November 14.

The Commission first endorsed the concept of full public financing earlier this spring, and conducted a series of informal public workshops this past summer to solicit input on the issues.

Public financing of City campaigns is not new to the City of Los Angeles. Since 1990, when City voters passed Proposition H, candidates for elective City office have had the option of participating in a voluntary system of partial public funding for their campaigns. Intended to increase voter choice and help restore public trust in government, the goals of the matching funds system are to help candidates with a demonstrated base of support raise enough funds to campaign for office without having to rely on large contributions or excessive fundraising and expenditures. Competitive campaigns, in turn, provide real choices for voters, increase voter participation, and free candidates to focus on the issues.

Under the City’s current "matching funds" system, candidates can qualify to receive a limited amount of public funding for their campaigns when they: agree to limit their campaign spending and use of personal funds, raise a threshold amount of funding, face at least one opponent who also has raised threshold amounts, and agree to debate their opponents. The City is required to set aside $2 million each fiscal year from the City’s General Fund to finance the program.

Studies by the City Ethics Commission have found that progress toward achieving the goals of the matching funds program could be strengthened, which led the Commission to explore the concept of full public financing for City elections. In a full public financing system, candidates who qualify and raise a certain amount of contributions to demonstrate their viability as candidates receive their campaign funds from the City, rather than from private donors. A full public financing system is designed to free candidates from time spent on fundraising and allows them to spend time on the issues. It is also designed to help strengthen government accountability, because candidates are indebted to the public for their campaign funds.

Establishing a full public financing system for City campaigns would require Los Angeles voters to amend the Charter and authorize and fund the program. At its meeting on November 14, the Commission may act on a package of detailed recommendations that it believes should be further considered by the City Council. If you have an opinion to share but are unable to attend the November 14 meeting, feel free to contact the Commission’s policy staff at (213) 978-1960, or share your thoughts by e-mailing ethics.policy@lacity.org.

For additional background and more detailed information, visit the Commission’s Web site at http://ethics.lacity.org/policy.cfm.

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