LOS ANGELES — Four City Council members introduced a motion on campaign finance reform Jan. 10 that proposes banning developer contributions to city elected officials and candidates.
The move comes about two months after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office opened a review of campaign contributions alleged to be linked to developer Samuel Leung’s $72 million apartment complex in Harbor Gateway.
“As elected officials, we depend on the people who elected us to trust that we’ll do the right thing for our communities. But, when it comes to campaign finance, the system we have in place today is failing us all,” said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who introduced the motion with fellow council members David Ryu, Joe Buscaino and Paul Koretz.
“The reform ideas we’re proposing are aimed at upending this by getting developer money out of City Hall and creating a more thoughtful, transparent and fair atmosphere,” Krekorian said.
The City Council commonly grants special permission, or “spot zoning,” to developers that want to construct a building outside of an area’s zoning rules, and eyebrows are often raised when those developers and their affiliates have also donated generously to the council or other elected officials.
One example was a recently proposed building near the Beverly Center by developer Rick Caruso that would be 240 feet high, well above the 45-foot limit under zoning guidelines for the neighborhood.
A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Caruso and his affiliates had contributed more than $476,000 to all but one of the city’s 17 elected officials or their causes over the last five years.
The Caruso development plan drew condemnation from the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, and within days of the article’s publication, Koretz pulled his support for the project.
Donors identified in a Times investigation as having ties to Leung gave more than $600,000 to the city’s elected officials or independent committees associated with them.
Many of the donors were working-class residents, according to The Times. Some denied having made any contributions, and at least one woman said she had been reimbursed, which raised red flags about potential campaign finance law violations.
Leung told The Times he did not reimburse any campaign contributions.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council supported moving the project forward though planning commission officials were opposed and it required a change in zoning rules for the neighborhood.
When asked for comment on the newly introduced motion, a mayoral spokesman told City News Service that Garcetti “looks forward to reviewing any proposals.”
The motion would ban contributions to city elected officials and candidates for city office from developers and their principals with development projects currently or recently before the city.
A second related motion introduced by Krekorian, Ryu and Buscaino and seconded by Koretz would increase the matching fund rates from the current 2:1 match in primary elections and 4:1 match in general elections to 6:1 in both primary elections and general elections for all candidates who qualify for matching funds.
The matching fund changes are aimed at empowering small donors, according to a statement from the council members. When New York City restricted contributions from some non-individual entities, its share of campaign contributions to candidates by individuals rose from 61 percent in 1997 to 92 percent in 2013, they said.
“The best way to restore trust in government is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict,” Ryu said. “By introducing sweeping reforms, we will work to restore Angelenos’ faith in the city’s ability to fairly review and approve major development projects. We need a campaign finance system that limits the influence of big-pocketed developers, and instead empowers thousands of small donors to have their voices heard.”
The motions would also seek to define “developer” and cast a wide net while doing so; require campaign committees to provide additional reporting on non-individual entity contributors, including a category that denotes contributions derived from developers and their principals; require a signed affidavit affirming, under penalty of perjury, that the contributions are being made by the contributor, who is not going to be reimbursed; and requests a report on the costs and feasibility of increasing the size of enforcement staff at the Ethics Commission, which oversees city campaign money.