Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Angelenos: United in Voter Apathy?

Mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are now in the final stretch of their campaign to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Following the March 5 election, both candidates will seek to motivate voters to go to the polls. But what voters? According to preliminary numbers, only 16 percent, yes that's right, only one out of six voters went to the polls or mailed in ballots. In a city divided over so many issues, it seems elections have managed to unite 84 percent of eligible Angelenos in laziness, boredom, apathy, or all of the above.
In Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the nation, there are approximately 1.8 million eligible voters and 3.8 million residents. This means approximately 290,000 voters weighed in on decisions that will affect nearly four million people. Another way of thinking of this is that each voter voted for the interests of 12 people living in Los Angeles.
I cannot claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of the reasons behind this significantly depressed turnout, therefore I cannot seek to propose solutions to this problem. But I do know that by sitting out elections we are giving a few of our fellow Angelenos, those who cast ballots, a great deal of power over the face of our city government. In essence what we have is a city of residential representatives who chose our political representatives. But, of course, no one appointed or elected this first group -- they merely decided to take part in our democracy.

Candidate-Controlled Ballot Measure Committees: Corruption Potential?

Candidate-controlled ballot measure committees arguably represent a legal gray area. They live somewhere in between candidate campaigns and ballot measure campaigns. The Supreme Court has said that contributions to candidates can lead, or at least appear to lead, to corruption and can therefore be limited. The Court has also said that contributions to ballot measure committees cannot lead, or cannot appear to lead, to corruption because there is simply no one to corrupt. But what about those committees which are controlled by candidates?
On the one hand, these ballot measure committees are separate from candidate campaigns. Their purpose, at least ostensibly, is related to the passage of a ballot measure, not a candidate. (But it is important to note that these committees can be formed to support proposals which may or may not ever make their way to the ballot).
On the other hand, it strains common sense to believe that candidates who control these committees are not aware of the identity of contributors, and would not in some cases feel predisposed to express their gratitude for contributions. Under this view, the ability to give unlimited sums to these ballot measure committees represents a huge loophole in our state's system of contribution limits.
The Sacramento Bee recently published a piece detailing how committees use campaign contributions. It shows that contributions are sometimes used for questionable purposes, such as out-of-state fundraisers, contributions to non-profit organizations, and even a legislator's tuition. However, it is also the case that not all donations to candidate controlled ballot measure committees raise red flags.
Given the current legal landscape, it seems highly unlikely that states and localities will be able to impose limits on contributions to these candidate controlled ballot measure committees. The most practical step is to impose robust transparency and disclosure provisions. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Outside Groups, Teachers Union Fight to a Draw in L.A.

Quoted in this article in the WSJ

The teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles, threw resources at the races, sending volunteers to help get out the vote.

Mr. Zimmer's win shows "the teachers union is still powerful" in L.A., said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a local-government expert. "They may not have spent as much money, but they have a lot of foot soldiers."

Top 2 candidates for L.A. mayor share a lot in common

Quoted in this article in the Christian Science Monitor. 

Garcetti has positioned himself as the frontrunner, which you can tell in his ads because they are overwhelmingly positive,” says Jessica Levinson, professor of law at Loyola Law School and former director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies. “Greuel is capitalizing on her time as city controller by fashioning herself as the one who can clean the fiscal house.”

As Eight Candidates Vie to Be Los Angeles’s Next Mayor, Voters Tune Out

Quoted in this article in the Daily Beast.

Unless a candidate breaks 50 percent Tuesday, the two top contenders will face off May 21. “The expectations are it is Greuel and Garcetti in the runoff,” says Jessica Levinson, an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School. “It is their ability to raise money, get endorsements, and garner independent expenditures on their behalf. They’re gathering the lion’s share of both.”
Garcetti, a Navy reservist and Rhodes scholar who served as council president between 2006 and 2012, is running as “a big-picture visionary,” says USC’s Schnur. His pitch is “I am going to create jobs and get the city moving,” adds Levinson.
[Re Greuel] “Her connections with the business community are probably better than any of the candidates’,” says Levinson.
Although Perry has been called a champion for local business interests, supported dozens of housing projects in the downtown core that led to a steady flow of jobs, and did more for Skid Row residents than any councilperson before her has done, she has had difficulty raising money and has been battered by attack ads from Greuel over long-ago financial problems. Perry admitted that she filed bankruptcy twice 20 years ago, but blamed the bulk of the problem on her former husband’s law practice.
“She has been fairly anemic in terms of fundraising,” said Levinson. “The name of the game in politics is fundraising prowess, and she hasn’t been able to match Greuel and Garcetti.”
[Re Kevin James] “He is the archetype of the outside candidate,” says Levinson. “The ad screams, ‘I want to go viral.’”

California lawmakers avoid campaign contribution limits with ballot measure accounts

Quoted in this article in the Sacramento Bee. 

In addition to their campaign accounts, legislators create "ballot measure" committees of their own that set no limits on the amount donors can contribute. The committees allow legislators to ask special interests for far more than the $4,100 per election they can solicit for their own campaigns.
State regulations require the accounts to be used to support or oppose any ballot measure, including proposals still under development that might not pan out.
A Bee review found that some of the more than $2.7 million lawmakers collected through these committees in the last two years paid for items with tenuous connection to such measures, including thank-you gifts to donors, a lawmaker's tuition and contributions to nonprofits. In some cases, they also spent heavily on extravagant, out-of-state fundraisers.
Any company or other large donor interested in spending on a ballot measure can do so directly.
But after California voters approved campaign contribution limits in 2000, committees controlled by lawmakers became another vehicle for raising the large amounts of campaign cash needed for ballot measure campaigns.
Routing contributions through the candidate-controlled committees can "kill two birds with one stone" for donors, said Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance and ethics expert at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
"If you support the ballot measure and you want to just support the candidate because of just emotional support, or you want to support the candidate because you want to get something in return, it's kind of a win-win," Levinson said.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/03/10/5250295/california-lawmakers-avoid-campaign.html#mi_rss=Top%20Stories#storylink=cpy