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For voters who are sickened by modern big-money politics, next month's Los Angeles city ballot contains a potential antidote.
It's a chance for Angelenos to get behind one aspect of much-needed election reform by striking back against U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have removed limits on campaign spending by corporations, labor unions and shadowy interest groups.
Proposition C asks voters to adopt a resolution urging L.A. elected officials and the area's members of Congress to promote a U.S. constitutional amendment to nullify the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision that struck down limits on spurious free-speech grounds.
This is only a resolution, with no binding effect. But it's an important statement. L.A. voters should say yes on May 21.
There's some irony in the fact this issue is on the ballot in an election for which political analysts expect a low percentage of voters to turn out, despite the importance of the races for mayor, two other citywide offices, four City Council seats and three medical-marijuana measures. Only 21 percent of registered voters participated in the March 5 primary.
Turnout is so low in part because of the effects of the new campaign spending laws on the way issues are (or aren't) debated these days.
From the last presidential election to L.A.'s current races, free-spending "outside" groups can have an outsize influence, not only on which candidates have a chance to win and how people vote, but on whether people feel inspired to vote at all.
If the public is suspicious about candidates' loyalties, it's partly because many seem to be bankrolled by groups who will expect the winner to support their interests later on. If the public thinks politicians are total scum, it's partly because of mud-slinging commercials and mailings produced by these ostensibly independent groups - insults that candidates themselves dare not utter.
This mayor's race between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel already is tainted by huge outside spending. Reported "independent expenditures" on campaign communications total $4.4 million (vs. $12.8 million in direct donations to candidates), including $2.4 million to Greuel, mostly from unions.
Last year, outside groups spent more than $1 billion on the presidential race. And California voters saw an Arizona nonprofit with anonymous members pump $11 million into the campaigns against the Prop. 30 tax hike and for the Prop. 32 limits on union political power.
The floodgates opened after the Supreme Court, in the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC case, ruled unconstitutional the laws that had limited independent campaign spending by corporations and other associations.
Prop. C was placed on the ballot by the L.A. City Council and is backed by California Common Cause and the California Public Interest Research Group. They hope support from a majority of L.A. voters will jump-start the long process of creating a constitutional amendment to trump the Supreme Court's actions.
Similar measures have passed in other cities, and the measure here has no organized opposition. For good reason.
L.A. voters should go to the polls and say yes to Prop. C.
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