The "matching funds" program in the city of Los Angeles was designed to encourage more competitive political races. Candidates who qualify for the program and who agree to cap their total campaign spending receive a 2-to-1 match for contributions they raise from individual donors in the first round of voting and 4 to 1 in the second. The city has already doled out $5.3 million this year to candidates for city offices under the program; $2.5 million of that amount has gone to candidates for mayor.

But matching funds are being swamped by rapidly increasing "independent" expenditures — money spent on a candidate's behalf but not given directly to or coordinated with the candidate's campaign. Independent expenditures have reached an all-time high in this year's city elections, with more than $7.8 million spent so far by outside groups on the combined city and school board races. That's more than was spent independently in both the first and second rounds of the municipal elections in 2011.

Tempting though it is to blame the high level of independent spending on the U.S. Supreme Court's much-criticized Citizens United ruling, it's not the culprit. Independent expenditures have long been allowed under both federal law and local election rules, and have for years been a mainstay of Los Angeles politics. . . . . . . . .

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What's dismaying about the current campaigns is not the fact of these expenditures but rather their magnitude. . . . . . . . .

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None of this violates any law or rule, but such significant spending by individuals and interests undermines this city's attempts to build a fairer campaign finance system. It's always hard to get elected officials to revisit these rules — by definition, those who win are those who've mastered them — but the leading candidates for mayor should pledge themselves to a comprehensive review of the city's election laws once this campaign is behind us.