Los Angeles: Clean Elections and How to Pay for Them

LA WATCHDOG--As a result of Angelenos' accurate perception that our corrupt City Council and Mayor are unduly influenced by the campaign contributions of real estate developers, the leaders of the City’s public sector unions, and other special interests, Councilmember Mike Bonin introduced his “Clean Money Elections for Los Angeles” motion on January 17.  

Under his proposal that “gets money out of politics,” the City would establish a system of publically financed municipal elections where candidates would “agree to forgo corporate donations, special interest money, further donations from individuals, or significant self-financing” in return for “a statutorily established amount of money sufficient to run an aggressive and well-financed campaign.”   

This voluntary program would be fully funded by a dedicated revenue stream.  According to Bonin’s motion, specific sources of financing would include fees on development and a severance tax for all oil and gas produced within the City of Los Angeles. 

But rather than levying new taxes on the business community which will be passed onto all Angelenos, the City Council should investigate the use of their less than transparent discretionary slush funds that are reputed to haul in $20 to $25 million a year.  

Sources of cash for these slush funds include the Street Furniture Fund (advertising revenues from bus shelters), Oil Pipeline Franchise Fees, the Real Property Trust Fund (50% of the proceeds of the sale of surplus property), and AB 1290 Funds (tax increment funds from the dissolution of the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency).  

There are also lucrative fees from the Lopez Canyon Landfill, the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, and the Central LA Recycling and Transfer Station that never see the light of day.  

Unfortunately, these slush funds are shrouded in mystery as the City Council refuses to allow a detailed audit that is available to the public.  Rather, our Elected Elite’s idea of transparency is a data dump of more than 100 pages of computer printouts which require an experienced forensic accountant to decipher.  

And when asked by Mayor Villaraigosa in 2010 to “lend” $40 million to shore up the City’s Reserve Fund in the face of a projected $485 million deficit, the answer was a self-serving and resounding NO.  

Despite this lack of transparency, each Councilmember has detailed information on their own discretionary slush fund.  

Another source of cash would be to tap the combined $100 million annual budgets of the Mayor and City Council.  But like the slush funds, this might be hitting too close to home and limit the ability of our Elected Elite to finance their pet projects and reward their friends, cronies, family, and contributors to their election campaigns.  

Bonin requested that the Chief Legislative Analyst and the City Administrative Officer develop cost estimates and revenue sources for the Clean Money Public Campaign Financing System.  He also moved that the Ethics Department to prepare a ballot measure for our rejection or acceptance in 2018. 

Any reform will also need to address Independent Expenditure committees that are funded by real estate developers, the leaders of the City’s public unions, and other special interests.  These committees are designed to support individual candidates, ballot measures, or tax increases where the Mayor and other elected officials put the arm on well healed donors who are looking for special treatment at City Hall.  

Of course, any reform will require the cooperation of our 18 elected officials and any candidate for office.  And this will be near impossible as campaign cash is the ultimate aphrodisiac for the money grubbing occupiers of City Hall and their cronies.  


Note: The recent flurry of Council motions endorsing campaign reform, including a Ban on Developer Campaign Contributions, are an effort to blunt wide spread voter support of Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and to offset voter outrage over the pay to play corruption involving real estate developers.  

Recent articles and editorials in the Los Angeles Times and CityWatch have detailed the corruption involving the Sea Breeze development where $600,000 in suspicious money laundering campaign contributions to Supervisor Janice Hahn, Mayor Garcetti, and Councilmembers Buscaino, Jose Huizar, Mitch Englander, and Nury Martinez resulted in the approval of a $72 million development that was rejected by both the Area and City Planning Commissions.

The Los Angeles Times, CityWatch, and other LA area publications have also had a field day commenting on the pay to play corruption at the over height development of billionaire Rick Caruso near the already congested Beverly Center, the oversized Cumulus development at Jefferson and La Cienega, the out of character Reef in South Central, and the 27 story development at Catalina and Eighth in Koreatown where Garcetti and Wesson extorted $1.25 million from the Beverly Hills developer in return for a variance valued at an estimated $20 million.


 (Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)