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ELECTION REFORMS WILL WAIT; PRESENT CITY SYSTEM TO REMAIN IN USE.

Byline: Beth Barrett Staff Writer

Backing away from a proposal that could have changed the city's matching fund program during the ongoing election season, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission said Monday that any reforms would apply to the 2003 election at the earliest.

``There was a concern about a perception of fairness on the part of the commission,'' said Miriam Krinsky, vice president of the commission. ``The council also could have been placed in an uncomfortable position, with some declared candidates deciding on the package.''

The commission had been considering making participation in the city's public matching fund program retroactive, an option that could have helped candidates for citywide office in 2001 who have been fund-raising in some cases since April. The provision was one of several the commission has been considering, saying it wants to make the campaign-financing ``playing field'' more level.

``If one candidate had been disadvantaged, it would not have been fair,'' said commission Executive Director Rebecca Avila.

She said the staff included the option after the filing date opened only because several years of research, including candidate statements reviewed over the summer, showed some reform in the voter-approved matching program might be warranted.

Under the current rules, candidates for mayor, city attorney and controller can start fund raising two years before an election, while council candidates can begin raising money 18 months in advance. All candidates, however, can only enter the matching fund program, under which they agree to abide by fixed spending limits, a year before their election.

That has meant candidates for citywide office have been able to raise campaign contributions since April, and could have benefited from a retroactive application of the matching fund program.

In the set of reforms now under consideration, commissioners said they want the fund-raising window and the matching fund period to coincide. The commission said they'll take up early next year any changes to the length of the fund raising window.

The proposed changes also could give participating candidates a 2-to-1 match for money raised from individuals up to a limit, as well as a 2-to-1 match whenever another candidate in a given race exceeds the spending limit. While that would help candidates raise money faster, the total match would remain constant.

Robert M. Stern, co-director of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said he supports shortening to a year the campaign fund-raising season for City Council races to help equalize the fund-raising abilities of incumbents and challengers.

``Traditionally, challengers don't raise funds until close to the election,'' Stern said.

City Councilman Michael Feuer, who has raised about $220,000 in his so-far uncontested run for city attorney, said the rules should not be applied retroactively, because of the perception and credibility problems it could create for the commission.

While the one-year window could be beneficial in reducing the pressure to do early fund raising, it could put candidates at a disadvantage when running against self-funded candidates who would not be under the same constraints, Feuer said.

Stern said most city candidates will never run against a wealthy candidate, and would be helped more by the shorter time frame.

Xandra Kayden, president of the League of Women Voters in Los Angeles, however, argued for a longer fund-raising and matching-fund window, saying term limits now force candidates into the field earlier anyway.

``I don't see any democratic advantage to narrowing the window,'' Kayden said.

At its Dec. 21 meeting, the commission is to consider whether candidates who intend to spend more than $30,000 of their personal funds will have to give notification 90 days before the election, rather than 30 days.

Commissioners also have asked for a review of the city's campaign loan policy, whereby candidates can lend themselves funds and then repay them after the election when campaign financing restrictions are no longer in place.

The commission also is in the midst of reviewing the city's campaign finance disclosure laws, which have been in effect for the last seven years, Avila said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 30, 1999
Words:668
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