City Council approves plan to elevate matching fund program

By Office of Councilmember Jose Huizar, Press Release

LOS ANGELES (Nov. 2, 2010) -The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to place a "Voter-owned election" referendum on the March 2011 ballot in order to encourage more candidates to use the City's matching fund program while limiting special interest influence.

Introduced by Councilmember Jos? Huizar as part of the "Los Angeles Voters' Bill of Rights," an election reform package created by good government groups and the Council member, Tuesday's vote means a ballot measure will be drawn up asking L.A. City voters to lift the current Public Matching Fund Program Trust Fund cap, which experts say is necessary if the City is serious about increasing the number of serious candidates using the City's matching fund program.

If voters pass the ballot measure to remove the cap, currently a little over $12 million, that vote will enable significant changes in the City's matching fund program designed to increase the number of qualified candidates, particularly citywide ones, to compete against heavily financed candidates.

"Today, we took a significant step in ensuring fairness in our elections and allowing a more diverse pool of candidates the opportunity to run serious campaigns without being independently wealthy or depending on special interest money," said Councilmember Jos? Huizar.

Currently, the City's Matching Fund Program is limited in the amount of funding that it can offer candidates for office due to limited resources, which ironically is one of the main reasons why the fund is currently at its cap. Since the passage of Proposition H in 1990 created the Ethics Commission and the City's matching funds program, 2009 was the first year that none of the leading candidates for Citywide office agreed to participate in the program.

Enhancements such as increasing the current 1-to-1 matching ratio for citywide candidates, will be needed to entice the expected candidates for the Mayor's office in 2013 to participate in the City's program, which sets spending limits for candidates and also requires public debates. There are also a number of Council seats that will be open in both 2013 and 2015 due to term limits and added funding would allow for increased matching fund limits in those races.

"Los Angeles voters owe Councilmember Jose Huizar and Council President Eric Garcetti their thanks for working to give them the chance to vote on this important start to addressing the problem of special interest money in politics," said Trent Lange, President, California Clean Money Campaign. "Strengthening the City's voter-passed matching funds system will let candidates spend less time fundraising and more time talking with voters."

With the increase in Independent Expenditures (IEs) this election cycle on the federal and state levels the ability of the City to help candidates targeted by IEs with matching funds becomes all the more important.

This past Friday, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt Councilmember Jos? Huizar's legislation calling for Vote-by-Mail elections in the City's next available Council seat Special Election. The plan would also leave open all polling places so voters can either vote-by-mail or vote in person on Election Day.

Following the Council seat Special Election, the City Clerk's office would determine the number of people who participated via Vote-by-Mail vs. those who voted in person. The City Council could then use that data to determine how many polling places they would need to keep open in order to expand Vote-by-Mail in future elections.

The Council is scheduled to take the third plank of Councilmember Huizar's election reform package, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), at tomorrow's meeting. The proposal, as it stands is to try out this more progressive form of voting in special elections, where in addition to saving the City, LAUSD and Community College District millions of dollars with each usage, RCV also can help to fill vacant seats faster, ensuring that voters do not have to do without elected representation.

Councilmember Huizar election reform package, the Los Angeles Voters' Bill of Rights, has the support of Council President Eric Garcetti and several good government organizations, including California Common Cause; League of Women Voters of Los Angeles; California Clean Money Campaign and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

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