County campaign finance reform initiative

April 8, 2009 

In November 1996, County voters approved by a 75%-25% margin Yaroslavsky’s proposal to enact the first comprehensive Countywide political campaign reform ordinance.

Key elements of the measure include:

- voluntary limits on expenditures
- mandatory limits on the amount any one person can contribute to a campaign, which vary depending on the candidate’s acceptance of voluntary expenditure limits
- “level playing-field” provisions which provide for flexible expenditure and contribution limits dependent on the amount of personal funds committed by rival candidates prohibitions on PAC contributions, unless by a “small-contributor committee”
- prohibitions on lobbyist contributions
- establishment of strict fundraising “windows” to prohibit year-round fundraising
- limits on officeholder account contributions and spending
- limits on attorney-fee account contributions and spending

An ordinance amending the Los Angeles County Code relating to the conduct of political campaigns for County offices.

The People of the County of Los Angeles ordain as follows:

SECTION 1: Chapter 2.190 is added to the Los Angeles County Code to read as follows:

Chapter 2.190

Political Campaigns for County Offices

2.190.010. Findings. The people of the County of Los Angeles find that as the cost of campaigning for county office increases, there is the need to raise larger and larger amounts of money, much of which may come from interest groups with a stake in matters pending before county officers. While citizens of the county should be allowed to make financial contributions to political campaigns for county offices as a legitimate form of participation in the political process, there is a need to reduce the opportunity for persons or organizations to use their financial strength to attempt to exercise control over candidates and the electoral process.

2.190.020. Purpose and Declaration of Intent. The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce the opportunity for corruption of the political process by establishing rules for the conduct of political campaigns for county offices. In recognition that the courts have limited the ability of the government to place mandatory ceilings on either overall campaign expenditures or the expenditure by a candidate of his or her personal funds, it is the intent of this ordinance to establish voluntary limits on such expenditures.

This ordinance also establishes mandatory limits on the amount any one person can contribute to a campaign, the level of which varies based upon the extent to which the candidates for a particular office have agreed to be bound by the voluntary expenditure limits. It is not the intent of this ordinance that it have any impact, or place any limits, on recall election campaigns.

2.190.030. Definitions. The following phrases, whenever used in this chapter, shall be construed as defined in this section:

“Bundling of contributions” shall mean the making of contributions to a candidate through another person or entity who acts as an intermediary or conduit.

“Campaign expenditure” shall mean any “expenditure” as that term is defined in Government Code section 82025 which is made by a candidate or his or her controlled committee in furtherance of that candidate’s effort to be elected to a county office. Campaign expenditures occurring at any time up to and including the date of the primary election, even if prior to the filing for office, shall be considered campaign expenditures related to the primary election. If the candidate is a candidate in the general election, campaign expenditures occurring after the date of the primary election shall be considered campaign expenditures related to the general election, except to the extent any expenditure is to repay a debt incurred for the primary election prior to the primary election, in which case the expenditure will be a campaign expenditure related to the primary election.

“Candidate” shall mean an individual, with regard to any primary or general election for either a county-wide office or supervisor, who is listed on the ballot or who has qualified to have write-in votes on his or her behalf counted by election officials or who receives a contribution or makes any expenditure with a view to bringing about his or her nomination or election.

“Committee” shall have the meaning set forth in Government Code section 82013.

“Contribution” shall have the meaning set forth in Government Code section 82015, except that as used in this chapter, “contribution” shall also include a loan or an extension of credit for a period of more than 30 days, other than loans or extensions of credit from financial institutions which are given in the regular course of business upon terms and conditions generally available to other customers of that financial institution.

“Controlled committee” shall have the meaning set forth in Government Code section 82016.

“County-wide office” shall mean the sheriff, the district attorney and the assessor of the County of Los Angeles.

“Registrar-recorder” shall mean the registrar-recorder/county clerk for the County of Los Angeles.

“Personal funds of the candidate” shall mean both the community and separate property of the candidate. “Personal funds of the spouse of the candidate” shall mean only the separate property of the spouse.

“Political action committee” shall mean any “general purpose committee” as that term is defined by Government Code section 82027.5.

“Political party” shall mean any “qualified party” as described in Elections Code section 5100.

“Primary election” shall also include a special election, and “general election” shall also include the runoff for a special election.

“Person” shall have the meaning set forth in Government Code section 82047.

“Small contributor committee” shall mean any committee which meets all of the following criteria:

It has membership of at least 100 individuals;

All contributions it receives from any one person in a calendar year total $50 or less;

It has been in existence at least six months;

It is not a candidate controlled committee.

“Supervisor” shall mean a member of the board of supervisors of the County of Los Angeles.
2.190.040. Contribution Limits.

Except as otherwise provided in subsection B or section 2.190.070, no person shall make to any candidate or any candidate’s controlled committee, and no candidate or his or her controlled committee shall solicit or accept, any contribution from any person which exceeds $200 for each primary election campaign and $200 for each general election campaign.

Except as otherwise provided in section 2.190.070, if either in a primary election campaign or in a general election campaign, a candidate commits to and does not exceed the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050, the contribution limits set forth in subsection A shall be increased to $1,000 for that primary or that general election campaign.

2.190.050. Voluntary Expenditure Limit.

For each primary and for each general election for each county office, there shall be a voluntary expenditure limit on total campaign expenditures by each candidate. At least 60 days prior to the close of candidate filing for each primary election, the registrar-recorder shall calculate and make available to all interested persons the amount of the voluntary expenditure limit for each county office which will be on the primary election ballot. The amount so calculated shall be the amount of the voluntary expenditure limit for each candidate in the primary election. If there is a need for a general election, there shall be a separate voluntary expenditure limit for that election, but the dollar amount of the voluntary expenditure limit for the general election shall be the same as that applicable to the primary election. The amount of the voluntary expenditure limit which shall be applicable separately to each primary and each general election shall be calculated as follows:

For each county-wide office the voluntary expenditure limit shall be $.25 per resident of the County as shown in the most recent federal decennial census.

For supervisor the voluntary expenditure limit shall be $.75 per resident of the applicable supervisorial district as shown in the most recent federal decennial census.

Each candidate shall file a declaration with the registrar-recorder no later than the close of filing for a primary election, and no later than thirty days after the primary election for a general election, stating whether the candidate agrees to be bound by the voluntary expenditure limit for the applicable primary or general election campaign of that candidate. If a candidate agrees to be bound by the voluntary expenditure limit for a primary or for a general election campaign, the total expenditures by that candidate and his or her controlled committee for the applicable primary or general election campaign shall not exceed the voluntary expenditure limit.

2.190.060. Contribution of Candidate’s Personal Funds.

The contribution limits set forth in section 2.190.040 shall not apply to the personal funds of the candidate, but shall apply to the personal funds of the spouse of the candidate. However, no candidate shall personally make outstanding loans to his or her campaign for county office or to that candidate’s controlled committee which total at any one point in time more than $20,000. Any contribution made to a candidate or to his or her controlled committee from the community property of the candidate and his or her spouse shall be considered a contribution from the personal funds of the candidate. While there is no mandatory limit, other than the loan limitation, under this chapter on the contribution of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office, a candidate may voluntarily agree to limit his or her contribution of personal funds, as set forth in this section.

Along with the declaration required by subsection B of section 2.190.050, for each primary and for each general election, each candidate shall declare under penalty of perjury that he or she will commit to one of the following options relating to the contribution of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office:
That during the primary or the general election, whichever is applicable, the candidate will not make a total contribution of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office exceeding $100,000. This option shall be known as the “$100,000 personal funds limit option.”

That during the primary or the general election, whichever is applicable, the candidate will not make a total contribution of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office exceeding $300,000. This option shall be known as the “$300,000 personal funds limit option.”

That during the primary or the general election, whichever is applicable, the candidate will not agree to any limitation on the total contribution of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office. This option shall be known as the “unlimited personal funds option.”
In each primary election and in each general election, no candidate for county office who commits to either the $100,000 personal funds limit option or the $300,000 personal funds limit option shall contribute an amount of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office which exceeds the applicable limit to which the candidate has voluntarily committed.

In each primary election and in each general election, each candidate for county office who has chosen the $300,000 personal funds limit option, within 10 days after filing his or her declaration with the registrar-recorder as set forth in subsection B, shall actually contribute an amount which is in excess of $100,000 of the personal funds of that candidate to his or her campaign for county office by depositing such an amount in his or her campaign account. Within 24 hours after making such a deposit of the personal funds of the candidate in his or her campaign account, the candidate shall file with the registrar-recorder, under penalty of perjury, a declaration stating that he or she has made such a deposit of his or her personal funds.

In each primary election and in each general election, each candidate for county office who has chosen the unlimited personal funds option, within 10 days after filing his or her declaration with the registrar-recorder as set forth in subsection B, shall actually contribute an amount which is in excess of $300,000 of the personal funds of that candidate to his or her campaign for county office by depositing such an amount in his or her campaign account. Within 24 hours after making such a deposit of the personal funds of the candidate in his or her campaign account, the candidate shall file with the registrar-recorder, under penalty of perjury, a declaration stating that he or she has made such a deposit of his or her personal funds.

2.190.070. Interrelationship of Contribution and Expenditure Limits.

If either in a primary or in a general election any candidate for a particular county office actually makes contributions of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office which exceed $100,000, for that primary or that general election, for each other candidate for that office who has committed to the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050 and who has chosen the $100,000 personal funds limit option, the contribution limit shall be increased to ten times the amount in subsection B of section 2.190.040.

Notwithstanding subsection A, if either in a primary or in a general election any candidate for a particular county office actually makes contributions of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office which exceed $300,000 for that primary or that general election, for each other candidate for that office who has both committed to the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050 and chosen the $100,000 personal funds limit option, the otherwise applicable contribution limit as set forth in subsection B of section 2.190.040 shall be removed.

If either in a primary or in a general election any candidate for a particular county office has chosen the $100,000 personal funds limit option but has declined to be bound by the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050, at such point in time when the total expenditures of that candidate and his or her controlled committee exceed an amount equal to 75% of the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050 applicable to that office for that election, the voluntary expenditure limit for each other candidate running for that same office in that same election who has agreed to be bound by the voluntary expenditure limit shall be double the amount set forth in section 2.190.050.

If either in a primary or in a general election any candidate for a particular county office has chosen either the $300,000 personal funds limit option or the unlimited personal funds option, and that candidate has also declined to commit to the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050, no other candidate for that office in that same primary or general election shall be bound by any voluntary expenditure limit to which he or she has otherwise committed. When voluntary expenditure limits are removed under this subsection, any candidate who had agreed to a voluntary expenditure limit under section 2.190.050 shall continue to be bound by the contribution limit set forth in subsection B of section 2.190.040, unless that limit is removed by some other provision of this chapter.

2.190.080. Bundling of Contributions and Contributions from Committees.

The bundling of contributions to a candidate or to his or her controlled committee is prohibited.

Except as otherwise provided in this section, contributions from any committee, except from a committee as described in subdivision (c) of Government Code section 82013 or from a political action committee which qualifies as a small contributor committee, to a candidate or to his or her controlled committee are prohibited.
Contributions from any political party to a candidate or to his or her controlled committee are prohibited.

Except as otherwise provided in this section, contributions from a committee as described in subdivision (c) of Government Code section 82013 or from a political action committee which qualifies as a small contributor committee to a candidate or to his or her controlled committee shall be limited in the same manner as contributions from individuals.

Notwithstanding subsections B through D, if either in a primary or in a general election any candidate for a particular county office actually makes contributions of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office which exceed $100,000, for that primary or that general election, for each other candidate for that office who has committed to the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050 and who has chosen the $100,000 personal funds limit option, any committee, including, but not limited to, any political action committee and any small contributor committee, may make, and such candidate may solicit and accept, contributions to such candidate for that election, but the total of all contributions for that election from any one committee to any one candidate may not exceed $10,000.

Notwithstanding subsections B through E, if either in a primary or in a general election any candidate for a particular county office actually makes contributions of the personal funds of the candidate to his or her campaign for county office which exceed $300,000, for that primary or that general election, for each other candidate for that office who has committed to the voluntary expenditure limit set forth in section 2.190.050 and who has chosen the $100,000 personal funds limit option, any committee, including, but not limited to, any political action committee and any small contributor committee, may make, and such candidate may solicit and accept, contributions to such candidate for that election, and there shall be no contributions limit on such contributions.

2.190.090. Fundraising Time Limits.

Neither a candidate for a county-wide office nor his or her controlled committee may accept contributions for either his or her primary election campaign or his or her general election campaign earlier than 18 months prior to the applicable primary or general election or later than six months after that primary or general election.
Neither a candidate for supervisor nor his or her controlled committee may accept contributions for either his or her primary election campaign or his or her general election campaign earlier than 15 months prior to the applicable primary or general election or later than six months after that primary or general election.

2.190.100. Officeholder Accounts. Each person holding a county office is allowed one segregated officeholder account which shall be subject to the following restrictions:

No county officeholder shall accept contributions to nor make expenditures from his or her officeholder account which total more than $75,000 in any calendar year.

No county officeholder who is a candidate for county office in a primary election shall make any expenditures whatsoever from his or her officeholder account during the period beginning six months prior to that primary election and ending on the day after that primary election if the officeholder is not a candidate in the general election, or ending on the day after the general election if the officeholder is a candidate in the general election.

No person shall contribute to the officeholder account of any county officer in excess of $1,000 in any calendar year. Said amount shall be in addition to any applicable limits on campaign contributions set forth in this chapter.

Surplus campaign funds related to an election to county office which were accumulated prior to November 5, 1996, may be transferred by the candidate to his or her officeholder account. After November 5, 1996, a maximum of $10,000 of surplus campaign funds from each primary and each general election campaign may be transferred by the candidate to his or her officeholder account. Surplus campaign funds transferred to an officeholder account as allowed by this section shall not count toward the contribution limits in this section.

Officeholder account funds may be expended or disbursed for the purposes for which campaign funds may be expended or disbursed as set forth in Article 4 (beginning with section 89510) of Chapter 9.5 or Title 9 of the Government Code, except that officeholder account funds shall only be used for expenses related to assisting, serving or communicating with constituents, or with carrying out the official duties of the elected county officer and may not be used to pay expenses related to a campaign for county office of an officeholder who is a candidate for county office.

2.190.110. Attorney’s Fees Fund. Persons who hold county office or who are or were candidates for county office may maintain a fund, separate from campaign funds and any officeholder account, to pay attorney’s fees to defend actions related to holding county office or running for county office, or for the purpose of obtaining advice regarding the administration of this or other campaign laws. There shall be no expenditure limit on any such fund, but no person maintaining such a fund may accept as a contribution to such fund more than $1,000 per calendar year from any person. Surplus campaign funds related to an election to county office which were accumulated prior to November 5, 1996, may be transferred by the candidate to his or her attorney’s fees fund, and any such transfer will not count toward the contribution limits in this section.

2.190.120. Distribution of Excess Funds. Excess funds in the campaign account of a candidate for county office, or in an officeholder account or an attorney’s fees fund allowed by this chapter, may, in addition to any other method allowed by law, be disposed of by contribution to a bona fide charitable, educational, civic, religious, or similar tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, where no substantial part of the proceeds will have a material financial effect on the candidate for county office, county officeholder, his or her campaign treasurer, any individual or individuals with authority to approve the expenditure of campaign funds, officeholder account funds or attorney’s fees funds, or a member of his or her immediate family. If a candidate in a primary election becomes a candidate in the general election for that office, excess funds from the primary campaign may be carried over for use in that candidate’s general election campaign and all expenditure and contribution limits will continue to apply as if no funds were carried over.

2.190.130. Lobbyist Contributions. No county official or candidate for county office shall knowingly solicit or accept any contribution to his or her campaign for county office or to his or her officeholder account or attorney’s fees fund from any person or firm who is registered under chapter 2.160 as a county lobbyist or county lobbying firm or who has been so registered at any time in the previous 12 months.

2.190.140. Violations and Enforcement.

Any person who knowingly violates any provision of this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor which may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or by both.

In addition to the penalty set forth in subsection A, any violation of this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty of up to three times the amount by which any applicable expenditure or contribution limit has been exceeded or $5,000, whichever is greater.

This chapter shall be administered by the registrar-recorder who shall recommend rules governing this chapter. Such rules shall be effective if approved by a majority vote of the board or supervisors.

The registrar-recorder and the district attorney shall receive and investigate complaints that a person has violated a provision of this chapter. When the registrar-recorder has evidence of a violation of this chapter, he or she may refer the matter to the district attorney, who shall have authority to seek the imposition of any penalty allowed by this section.

Any person residing in the county may bring a civil action to enjoin violations of this chapter or to compel compliance with any provision of this chapter by following the procedures set forth in Government Code sections 91003 et. seq., except that the civil prosecutor shall be the district attorney.
Within 60 days after the enactment of this chapter the registrar-recorder and the district attorney shall each designate persons within their respective offices who will be responsible for the enforcement and administration of the duties assigned to them under this chapter. Nothing in this chapter shall preclude the county from contracting with a state agency to administer and/or enforce any provision of this chapter.
2.190.150. Amendment.

This chapter may be amended only if the amendment is approved by at least a four-fifths vote of the board of supervisors and only as follows:

To increase the various contribution and expenditure limits to reflect equivalent increases in the cost of living;

The amendment is necessary to make this chapter consistent with state law or judicial actions interpreting this or similar laws; or
If the board of supervisors finds that the amendment otherwise furthers the purposes of this chapter.

2.190.160. Severability.

Notwithstanding section 2.190.070 or any other provision of this chapter, if any provision of this chapter, or its application to any person or circumstance, is held invalid, the remainder of this chapter to the extent it can be given effect, or the application of such provision to persons or circumstances other than those as to which it is held invalid, shall not be affected thereby, and to this extent the provisions of this chapter are severable.

If the voluntary expenditure limits set forth in section 2.190.050 are held invalid, the contribution limit set forth in subsection B of section 2.190.040 shall apply unless the board of supervisors by at least a four-fifths vote sets the amount at a higher level.

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