As it waits for a City Council vote on new rules for electronic billboards, outdoor advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor has become a major backer of the campaign to change L.A.’s election dates. The company recently gave $25,000 to the campaign for Charter Amendments 1 and 2, the March 3 ballot measures that would align L.A. city and school board races with higher-turnout state and presidential elections. Supporters say the change in election dates, which are backed by council President Herb Wesson and would go into effect in 2020, will diminish the power of special interests by getting more voters to the polls. But records show that, so far, many of those lining up behind the measures — public employee unions, business groups and a handful of private companies — have past or present stakes in City Hall decisions. Denver-based CP Development, which won city approval last year for a downtown high-rise, gave $25,000 to a committee promoting the measures. So did the L.A. County Federation of Labor, which fought a move to scale back city employee pension costs and, more recently, convinced the council to hike the minimum wage at large hotels.
Foes of the ballot proposals say the contributions and endorsements show that special interests think the measures will benefit them by increasing their success rate in electing candidates.
Once L.A. elections are combined with state and federal elections, airwaves and mailboxes will be so crowded with campaign advertising that local, grassroots candidates will struggle to raise the money needed to connect with voters, said political consultant Hans Johnson, who lives in Eagle Rock and signed the argument against the ballot measures. “This would give these special interests an even stronger grip over picking winners and losers,” he said.
Kathay Feng, co-chair of the campaign seeking the election changes, dismissed that notion, saying special interests enjoy greater influence in elections where they have fewer voters paying attention. She said the committee backing the two ballot measures, known formally as Citizens for Increased Voter Participation, is trying to make “honorable choices” about which contributions it accepts.