City Councilman Eric Garcetti challenged rival Controller Wendy Greuel to donate half of the outside funds spent on their respective L.A. mayoral campaigns to charity at a Sherman Oaks debate on Wednesday.
Garcetti says he wants to lessen special interests' influence in the 2013 mayor's race. Greuel is his closest rival in the race.
Independent expenditure committees and SuperPACs aren't governed by contribution limits, and can spend lavishly on candidates. The committees are forbidden from coordinating with the candidates campaigns, but they hold huge influence since they can buy advertising, mailers and radio spots.
Greuel looked taken aback by Garcetti's question. She called it "gimmicky" and said she'd "look at" his proposal.
The challenge came during a lively stretch of the debate, when the participating candidates, which included Greuel, Garcetti, Councilwoman Jan Perry and attorney Kevin James, asked one another questions.
All are vying to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is termed out in June.
The debate, moderated by L.A. Weekly reporter Gene Maddaus, was hosted by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. It was attended by a few hundred people, who applauded at certain points for each of the four candidates.
In raising the issue of campaign financing, Garcetti pointed to Massachusetts, where Sen. Scott Brown (R) and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren opted to keep SuperPACs, funds raised by outsiders, out of their race.
"Will you agree to do the following..to pledge to spend half of whatever they do, and give it to a charity of the other person's choice," he asked Greuel. "Will you make that pledge, too?"
Greuel responded that most of her campaign donations come in small amounts.
"Tonight is the first I have heard about it...so I appreciate the somewhat gimmicky suggestion that you're suggesting tonight," Greuel said. "But I think what the public wants is to make sure is that we're talking about the issues that are important to our community and to our neighborhoods."
The question came two days after a political consultant said Greuel received the backing of the powerful Department of Water and Power union IBEW, which is promising to spend money on an extensive television campaign for Greuel.
Garcetti's proposal also came on the day that the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank and file officers, endorsed Greuel. The league reportedly spent more than $700,000 on Carmen Trutanich's run for city attorney in 2009.
But it was the DWP union's pledge to fund Greuel that became a theme throughout the night.
"I do believe that if people spend a lot of money on you in an election, they aren't doing it just because they love you. They want something from you," Garcetti said at one point. He said he supports elections that only rely on public financing.
An ABC7/Survey USA poll released Wednesday found that Garcetti is leading the race.
Garcetti garnered 26 percent of the vote, while Greuel took in 18 percent of the vote. James and Perry both tied for third with 12 percent each.
The poll, conducted by phone, and online, interviewed 1,000 people. The poll didn't list the margin of error, but James' campaign said the margin of error was 4.3 percent.