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Council Ponders Publicly Financed Election Bids:

The Santa Monica City Council voted 5-1 to approve a motion recommending that the City hold a series of workshops on election reform, including, but not limited to, a plan for Santa Monica to hold publicly funded elections.

The Council had asked City staff for information that would lead to a campaign finance reform program. City Clerk Maria M. Stewart submitted a comprehensive report to the Council that outlined the process and asked that the Council review the information and then provide direction to staff.

Stewart’s report documented the public financing programs that have been adopted by the cities of Portland, Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as the matching funds-only policy under use in the City of Los Angeles. The report went on to describe options for a public financing program structure in Santa Monica, which would be implemented in time for the November 2008 election.

Under the proposal outlined in Stewart’s report, candidates who choose to participate must raise $3000 in qualifying contributions, with a minimum of $5 per contribution and a maximum of $30 per individual contribution. Candidates would need the support of between a minimum of 100 individuals with $30 contributions and a maximum of 600 individuals at $5. Participating candidates would then receive $50,000 in funds for the election and might also receive an additional amount of $50,000 only in cases where they need to respond to non-participating opposing candidates who have spent over $50,000 or to respond to independent expenditures.

After hearing a summary by Stewart of her report, the Councilmembers heard public input from more than 30 individuals, almost all of them in support of publicly funded elections, a process many of them also referred to as “clean money.”

Advocates repeatedly spoke of negative campaign tactics and the hope that publicly financed elections would help to minimize the problem. Several people denounced the negative campaign waged by “special interests” against Councilmember Kevin       McKeown in the November 2006 election. They also argued in favor of the concept because it would allow low-income and minority candidates to run, it would bring real democracy to the political system and it would lessen the likelihood of special interests such as large developers having control of the City.

Among those who sent representatives to speak in support of public financing were California Coalition For Clean Money, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and a coalition of Santa Monica neighborhood organizations including Friends of Sunset Park and Ocean Park Organization.

Also appearing in support of public financing were former Councilmembers and former mayors Dennis Zane and Mike Feinstein.

After hearing the speakers, Councilmember McKeown submitted a two-part motion that 1) the City Attorney advise the Council on how existing laws can be used more effectively and 2) the City hold a series of public workshops to address concerns on public financing. This motion was seconded by Councilmember Herb Katz.

During subsequent discussion on the motion, Councilmembers Bobby Shriver and Robert Holbrook brought up the concern over financial costs of implementing a public financing program. Holbrook insisted that public financing would not  “improve democracy” in Santa Monica. “It will allow more people to vote,” he said “ but none of them will win.”

Mayor Richard Bloom said he could not support the motion as crafted. He also had concerns about the financial cost to the City.

Katz then rescinded his seconding of McKeown’s motion. McKeown attempted to rephrase his motion but could not find a wording that satisfied the other Councilmembers. Katz then submitted a revised motion that the City Attorney would write a memo on the topic of public financing and that workshops would be created to get input on public financing for elections.

As Mayor Bloom insisted he still would not support the motion if it was for workshops exclusively focused on public financing, Katz changed the motion to workshops on “any means of improving the election process, including public financing.” The motion then passed with Holbrook providing the sole “no” vote.

The City Clerk’s Staff Report is available online at the City of Santa Monica website, http://pen.ci.santa-monica.ca.us/cityclerk/council/agendas/2007/20070227/s2007022708-G.htm.

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