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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

LA Mayor Candidates Get a Little Help From Their Friends

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As David Zahniser of Copley News Service reports for the Daily Breeze, LA Mayor candidates James Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa are receiving substantial help from outside groups. Hahn has been helped to the tune of $864,000 in spending on ads supporting his candidacy; Villaraigosa to the tune of $500,000.

The City of LA's campaign finance laws cap contributions to candidates at $1,000, but allow "independent" groups to spend unlimited sums in support or against a candidate as long as the candidate doesn't ask for the financial help and doesn't influence the way the money is spent.

This distinction, based of course upon the 1976 Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, does very little to check the hegemony of wealthy donors in influencing the outcome of elections. Ten million bucks' worth of Vote-for-Hahn ads paid for by Rich Guys to Elect Hahn has a very similar effect on popular opinion as the ads would if Hahn paid for them with ten million bucks from Rich Guys to Elect Hahn. It's still rich guys, it's still Hahn, it's still the public discourse being dominated by size of wallet, not strength of ideas or character of candidate.

Buckley has been weakened considerably by recent Supreme Court decisions and a wealth of evidence demonstrating the dominance of wealthy interests over all levels of democracy in America. Last year's flagrant evasion of caps on contributions to political committees by 527 groups is just one example of why regulating so-called "independent expenditures" is a vital piece of the puzzle in putting our democracy back together.

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