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Campaign finance rules appear imminent

Submitted by on 1, June 2, 2010 – 4:50 amOne Comment

The City Council appears poised to okay a set of campaign finance limits a month ahead of schedule, though two of the body’s five members are questioning whether it makes sense to okay the rules in the midst of campaign season with little to no public input.

The new rules, which could go into effect immediately if the council okays them on June 15, would cap individual contributions for candidates running for mayor, council, auditor and treasurer at $250 and limit the time period in which candidates could raise funds. It would also bar candidates from taking money from potential city contractors. Those who fail to follow the rules could face criminal penalties and fines.

The council jettisoned plans to require campaign disclosures for each contribution of $50 or more. State law requires disclosures for contributions of $100 or more. They also decided not to require sitting council members to orally disclose contributions from people seeking discretionary decisions from the bodies they sit on.

The rules do not apply to ballot measures, and they don’t limit the amount of money a candidate can spend on their own campaign.

“I think the timing creates some inherent conflicts of interest,” Councilwoman Lena Tam said, noting that sitting members of the council are in the midst of their campaigns. Councilmembers Marie Gilmore and Frank Matarrese are both running for mayor, and both Matarrese’s and Tam’s council seats are open in November.

Tam said she thought it was unfair to push through the new rules in the middle of the campaign, and she thought the public should have more of a chance to say what they think should be done. She wanted the council to wait until after the election to consider a campaign finance ordinance.

But other members of the council decided they want to move forward. Mayor Beverly Johnson, whose supervisorial campaign would not be covered by the new rules, said the public could have offered its input on the ordinance at Tuesday’s council meeting, and she said any issues that came up in respect to the new campaign finance rules could be fixed later.

“I don’t think people are expecting a long, drawn out process on this. The sentiment I get from the public is, ‘Just get it done,’ ” Johnson said.

One issue raised by Gilmore, who with Tam voted against moving forward on June 15, was the limit the ordinance would impose on the amount of time candidates would have raise funds to retire campaign debt. (Gilmore had to raise funds after regaining her seat on the council in 2008 to retire her own debt fro that campaign.)

The League of Women Voters of Alameda’s Kate Quick was the only person to speak on the proposed finance limits on Tuesday. She said she thought the public should be allowed to have more input.

One Comment »

  • ct says:

    But the campaign finance rules drawn up by Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith don’t address contributions made by political action committees, which leaves a huge loophole. Lauren Do has a solution that makes far better sense, at laurendo.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/reform-schmeform/. This is the kind of public input City Council members need to hear before being pressured into casting a hasty, uninformed vote.

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