Santa Monica

Councilmember Kevin McKeown


(Don’t forget that any TV set graphic on my website links to a video!)

Let me say it straight out:  Corporate money corrupts our democracy, and is one reason we can’t seem to achieve many of the common-sense solutions our country so badly needs, like a fair tax structure, universal single-payer health care, and card check neutrality for workers.

I believe in “clean money” – passionately enough to have made it a cornerstone of all my own campaigns.  I have declined all corporate donations, because I believe corporate money in politics is wrong.  In early 2007, I was in Washington to hear then-Senator Barack Obama present to the House Judiciary Committee his plan for campaign finance reform.

But I’m just a local Councilmember, so I’ve worked on “clean money” locally.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to do it alone.  Local residents organized to help make it happen as “VOTE4SM,” Voter-Owned Transparent Elections for Santa Monica.  We enjoyed tremendous support and/or research from the California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, the Center for Governmental Studies, Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, the League of Women Voters, and others.  After all that, we’re still waiting for campaign finance reform.

Why?  We had, after all, come up with a fair and workable plan, tailored to Santa Monica’s needs.  Why did the Council majority balk?

In Santa Monica, the big outside money comes from developers, who run so-called “independent expenditure” campaigns for and against our local candidates, not controlled by Santa Monica’s existing political campaign contribution limits.  Things came to a head in 2006, when a Council majority tried to repeal earlier voter-enacted constraints on donationsI insisted we move instead toward true campaign finance reform, and at least study “clean money.”

The ensuing 2006 election was the nastiest in our history.  Afterwards, I immediately pressed again for reform.  This time, the Council agreed to have staff begin research.  Just before the presentation in March of 2007, a National League of Cities conference took me to Washington, where I was further inspired by then-Senator Obama’s plan for national campaign finance reform.  I came home on fire. Our City staff research was compelling.  We scheduled public workshops.

The community support was clear when the workshops were reported to the City Council in June.  The Center for Governmental Studies provided examples of other local “clean money” programs.  Staff was asked to hone the proposals, and came back with no fewer than five options.  Our community partners in VOTE4SM prepared a proposal of their own

On October 23, 2007, though, the Council not only declined the proposals, but voted to end the discussion. One Councilmember defended her vote.  Santa Monica’s then-Mayor said the public would have to start the process over.  There was subsequent public outcry, but that declaration ended the matter.

Does all this make you wonder

who’s been giving money to whom?  City Council contribution records are public, available online here.

For the time being.

Here’s our next step, requested by the community after some recent questions raised by the 2010 election and upcoming land use issues.

When the influence of outside money on our local political process becomes more clear, true campaign finance reform with voter-owned elections sounds better and better.  One start might be to qualify candidates for public funding we already give.

Our local Transparency Project wrote, “Only one council member, Kevin McKeown, receives funds primarily from Santa Monica residents — 56 percent of funds raised.  All others receive from 61-84 percent of campaign funds from business interests and individuals outside the city.”    (Source:  SM Patch, 9/16/12)

I’m honored by, and grateful for, your support in electing me six times!