By Catherine Saillant and Abby Sewell
April 13, 2014, 5:15 p.m.

Bobby Shriver, the first Los Angeles County supervisorial contender in 18 years to opt out of voluntary campaign spending limits, is calling for a major overhaul of county election laws, including lifting fundraising restrictions on candidates who use personal wealth to help pay for their campaigns.

Last month, the Santa Monica lawyer and nonprofit director contributed $300,000 of his own money to his effort to succeed longtime west county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Shriver, a member of the Kennedy political family, criticized a $1.4-million voluntary spending limit in the June 3 primary as inadequate to get his message out to 2 million constituents.

Speaking last week at a debate at Temple Israel in Hollywood, Shriver said he’d be willing to put even more of his money into the campaign, if necessary. “If I felt I had to tell my story, sure,” he said in response to a question. “Particularly if I felt I got attacked on an unfair basis.”

Spending limits have become one of the clearer points of separation for the top three candidates in the race. Shriver has called the county’s current campaign finance laws outdated and probably unconstitutional. But his most prominent rivals, former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl and West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, also lawyers, have said the county’s campaign spending laws are working and the voluntary cap on expenditures is sufficient to mount a credible campaign.

Under existing rules, candidates who abide by a $1.4-million spending limit can collect individual donations of up to $1,500.

But if a candidate rejects the voluntary spending cap and makes large personal contributions — as Shriver did in early March — he or she is restricted to maximum donations of $300. At that point, all other candidates in the race can begin raising individual donations in unlimited amounts. Shriver says that unfairly punishes those who self-fund bids for public office.

Shriver’s criticism of the campaign law comes as a package of 1996 reforms is facing its first real test. After decades of little movement on the Board of Supervisors, terms limits are pushing out Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Gloria Molina this year, followed by Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich in 2016.

New leadership could usher in changes on a number of policy fronts in the county, including how political spending is regulated.

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