Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Measure H and 'Pay to Play' Politics in Los Angeles

If approved on Tuesday, Measure H could go a long way toward preventing "pay-to-play" politics in Los Angeles, at least according to its supporters.

Specifically, the measure would prohibit bidders on city contracts worth $100,000 or more from contributing to city political campaigns.

"Measure H is one incremental step for getting money out of politics," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform at the Center for Governmental Studies. "Measure H targets that group whose spending is most likely to give rise to actual or apparent corruption — city contractors."

Measure H was drafted in the wake of the so-called "LAX Food Fight," in which lobbyists and contractors bidding for the Los Angeles International Airport food vending contract were discovered to have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the city council. That contract would be worth $600 million in revenue over the next decade, providing a clear incentive for a bidding war.

Proponents of Measure H argue that the influx of political money flowing from bidding companies and interest groups taints the contracting process, turning city politics into an auction. Measure H is supposed to ensure that contracts are awarded based on merit, not fiscal clout.

"If you're going to bid on a contract that is worth $200,000 or a couple million dollars with the city, you want to make sure that when the city is making their decision they are making it based on merit, not on who gave them campaign funds," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. "It would be the same as if you were taking an SAT test, you'd want to make sure that your score was based on how you actually performed, not because you slipped somebody a $100 bill."

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If the measure passes, supporters say it will democratize city politics, allowing any contractor to be eligible for valuable contracts, not only those wealthy enough to back their bid with campaign contributions.

Measure H, however, is not without critics. Its opponents, which include Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and several members of the Los Angeles City Council, warn there are loopholes that donors can exploit.

For example, the measure would not stop companies from contributing to political action committees. And PACs, for their part, would still be able to use that money in support of city candidates.

The thumbnail used with this post is by Flickr user Floyd B. Bariscale. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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