Los Angeles City Council members proposed a ban on campaign donations from real estate developers earlier this month.
Three council members proposed the ban to the City Ethics Commission as part of a series of campaign finance reforms. The ban aims to increase transparency and public trust in city elections. But some members of the Westwood community are skeptical of the proposals.
“We need a campaign finance system that limits the influence of big-pocketed developers, and instead empowers thousands of small donors to have their voices heard,” said David Ryu, a Los Angeles city council member, in a statement.
Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin also signed onto the proposals. Koretz, who represents Westwood and other communities in District 5, wants to change the perception by Los Angeles residents that there are conflicts of interest in city government.
“I don’t believe a pay-to-play culture exists at City Hall, but it’s time to address the perception from our community members because it’s not a good reputation to have, whether it’s real or not,” Koretz said in a statement.
The proposals have goals similar to Measure S, an initiative that aims to limit the control of developers on City Hall. The measure would impose a two-year moratorium on all construction that increases development density, if passed on the city ballot in March.
The moratorium is intended to prevent corruption between developers and the city, but Koretz is concerned that it will lead to a decrease in affordable housing. The recent proposals also intend to prevent corruption, but without imposing the moratorium.
Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said he does not think the proposals are a good alternative to Measure S. He said not all developers try to influence elections for their own gain, and even developers who do are not the only group abusing the system. He added this is his personal opinion and does not reflect the association.
“Developers aren’t the only influencers,” Thomas said. “(There are also) homeowners associations, renters’ groups and every lobbyist you could imagine.”
Bonin has also introduced a series of proposals that would allow local political campaigns to tap into public funds for support instead of only relying on private donations. Thomas said he thinks this would be a better solution for campaign finance problems.
Barry O’Neill, a UCLA political science professor, said he believes political campaigns should be publicly funded. He added he thinks politicians should not have to solicit campaign funding because it can lead to conflicts of interest and simply takes too much time.
O’Neill added that the proposals to ban campaign donations from developers could hypothetically be beneficial, but developers would likely challenge them in the Supreme Court for infringing on their freedom of speech and right to donate. At the same time, it would send a symbolic message to Los Angeles and the country about campaign finance reform, he added.
The city council’s efforts to limit political conflicts of interest are relevant to current national politics, O’Neill said.
“People are more conscious than before of these issues (because of) the accusation that (Donald) Trump has special interests, and also investments in foreign countries,” O’Neill said.