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City of LA Measure N May Be Hard to Swallow

The measure amends the charter to comply with the US Supreme Court's approval of unlimited campaign contributions by corporations.

Los Angeles voters will have the opportunity to place the city's charter in compliance with federal campaign finance rules when they consider Measure N on Tuesday's ballot.

The city fell out of conformity when the Supreme Court ruled against limiting corporate campaign contributions last year, a decision decried by President Barack Obama among others.

Measure N would get rid of three current charter provisions that the city attorney's office has identified as unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's decision:

  • A $500 limit on an individual's contribution to an independent expenditure committee for city elections and $1,000 for Los Angeles Unified School District elections.
  • A requirement for candidates who finance their campaigns with $30,000 or more from their own personal funds to provide advance notice of their intent to spend those funds.
  • A lifting of contribution limits on candidates who are running against self-financed candidates, so they can match the level of personal funds being used by the self-financed candidate. 

During a debate in November on including Measure N on Tuesday's ballot, City Council members noted the conflict that some voters may feel about the proposal.

"What we are putting before the voters is something they are not likely to support philosophically," Councilman Richard Alarcon said. "But this is something we have to do to correct the incongruity with the Supreme Court decision."

The Supreme Court ruled that bans on corporate campaign contributions were unconstitutional since corporations have the same rights to free speech as individuals. The 5-4 decision was hotly debated at the time.

If the measure to amend the city charter fails, Los Angeles could be exposed to lawsuits.

The city attorney's office already does not enforce the city charter regulations that Measure N is designed to address, so there will be no practical change to campaign finance laws in the city. 

However, leaving the provisions on the books could expose the city to litigation.

"There is a risk that we could be forced to pay attorney fees," said Deputy City Attorney Renee Stadel.

took a strong stance against Measure N, saying, "Obviously, I think the Supreme Court is wrong, and I am going to continue to vote no on these measures."

said he considers the high court ruling to be "one of the worst Supreme Court decisions" in his lifetime. "We could be the city that fights it," Garcetti added, "but I don't see that happening."

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