Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Dough Rising In L.A. City Council Races

So far more than $500,000 in independent money has been spent on Los Angeles City Council races, the City Ethics Commission announced Wednesday.

The vast majority of those independent expenditures — money spent by outside groups on radio, TV, and print ads to support or oppose candidates — is being funneled into the 8th District race between incumbent Bernard Parks and union-backed Forescee Hogan-Rowles.

In 2007 the 8th District race received less than $2000 in outside money, all of which went to support Parks. With almost three weeks still to go, the same district has already pulled in more than $446,000 — more than a 22,000 percent increase.

In the last two weeks, labor groups have geared up to oppose what they see as Parks's anti-union positions: namely, his stated opposition to expanded police hiring and his concern about the rising cost to the city for police and firefighter pensions. Parks's union foes include Working Californians to Support Forescee Hogan-Rowles for City Council 2011 and the Los Angeles Police Protective League PAC.

The Working Californians group spent $60,000 on a TV ad in early February, the largest single independent expenditure in that race to date. Opponents of Parks have raised more than $357,000 to support Hogan-Rowles.

Another race attracting sizable chunks of outside money pits 14th District incumbent Jose Huizar against businessman Rudy Martinez.

While the two former friends publicly exchange verbal blows, about $75,000 in independent money has gone toward mailers and billboard ads in East L.A. Two-thirds of that money has gone to benefit Huizar over Martinez.

A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated caps on independent expenditures effectively allows the unlimited flow of union and corporate cash into elections. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections, invalidated rules in Los Angeles that had put a $500 limit on such expenditures. Although those rules are still codified in the Los Angeles City Charter, limits are not enforced.

A measure on the March 8 ballot , if approved, would strike the rule from the charter.

Although city council candidates can't receive independent expenditures directly, they can get direct campaign financing from the city as part of a Public Matching Funds program. If candidates and their opponents agree to campaign limits — a limit of $500 from individual direct contributions and a $330,000 total campaign limit — and if they can raise at least $25,000, the city will match their campaign funds.

So far, the city has doled out $168,000 to council candidates. Huizar received $100,000 in matching funds; Hogan-Rowles, $16,289; and Parks, $34,571. Out of the 26 city council candidates, 18 agreed to the direct campaign limits and can receive matching funds.

The photo on this post is by Flickr user amagill. It is used under a Creative Commons License.


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