This month, the Los Angeles City Council approved several important reforms to the city's public financing system. These reforms will help strengthen the connection between Los Angeles residents and their elected officials.
Beginning in 2013, participating candidates will receive four dollars in matching funds for every dollar they raise from qualified donors in the general election, and two dollars for every dollar in the primary. Starting in 2015, the program will only match donations from Los Angeles city residents, and candidates for City Council will need to raise 200 donations of five dollars or more to qualify for public financing.
The reforms in Los Angeles are modeled in part off of a similar system in New York City. Earlier this year, a joint Brennan Center/Campaign Finance Institute report found that under New York City's multiple-match public financing system, almost everyone in the city — from the richest of neighborhoods to the poorest — lived within a city block or so of someone who contributed in city council elections. That was not even close to being true in state-level contests, where no such matching funds program existed.
By giving candidates an incentive to reach out to a broader and more diverse array of constituents to fund their campaigns, New York City's public financing system fundamentally altered the relationship between politicians and their constituents.
The Brennan Center was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss the benefits of New York City's system with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission this June, and we are pleased that the City Council has adopted the Ethics Commission's recommendations. Los Angeles has taken a crucial step towards bringing ordinary citizens back to the heart of the city's democracy.