Compromise in election finance reform
by David Mendez
The Redondo Beach City Council moved forward with its plan to institute political campaign financing reform, modifying its most recently approved plan in a show of compromise, with less than three months until the city’s 2019 municipal elections.
However, this most recent attempt lost support of one council member, passing with only three votes. That leaves it vulnerable to a veto if it does not pass muster with Mayor Bill Brand.
Consensus was reached between council members Christian Horvath, Todd Loewenstein and Nils Nehrenheim, when Horvath’s original plan was modified to increase campaign donation limits in both City Council, to $1,000 per donor per cycle, and Mayoral elections, to $2,500. Other citywide races, including elections for City Treasurer, Clerk and Attorney and school board seats, would continue to run without donation limits.
Should the reform limits be approved, they will likely go into effect 30 days after second reading and approval of the final language. That likely sets the final language for mid-January, well into the 2019 campaign season.
Redondo Beach has no campaign finance limits set in place, much like a majority of cities in Los Angeles County. However, city leadership and resident groups have been calling for that to change.
It very nearly did two years ago, when Horvath proposed a plan that passed its first meeting, but was shot down by warring interests within the City Council weeks later.
Councilman John Gran, who voted against the original language last month, continued his opposition, arguing that it’s inappropriate for the Council to affect financing limits while he and his colleagues are in office and still able to run for future terms.
Incumbents, Gran said, “are working from a position of power” when it comes to elections, and campaign finance limits put challengers at a disadvantage compared to their opponents with name recognition and a recent track record.
“I feel going into a campaign season with those rules and changing them now does us a disservice,” Gran said.
Mel Samples, so far the sole challenger for Laura Emdee’s District Five seat in the coming March election, agrees.
“I think it’s inappropriate to change the rules in the middle of the race,” Samples said, noting that the changes “won’t go into effect until the middle of January, and six weeks before the race is over.”
Language in the ordinance would also end the election cycle six months after the election is decided. There is currently no end to the existing election cycle, allowing for donations to a candidate’s campaign to continue to take place well beyond election day. Brand has complained about that practice, saying that donations to a winner’s campaign after the election serve only to curry favor, and both he and Nehrenheim argued that the election cycle should end immediately after the election.
However, he and his colleagues were able to find compromise, not letting “perfect be the enemy of good,” as Loewenstein said.
The Council also decided, in a later discussion, to consider an ordinance that would establish regulations on lobbyists, based off of an existing West Hollywood municipal ordinance. That will return to the City Council at a later date.