Council set to decide on campaign finance limits
The campaign finance ordinance up for a vote at tonight’s City Council meeting would limit contributions to prospective city officeholders to $250 per contributor, prohibit contributions from city contractors and publish contributors’ names on the city’s website at least a week before an election.
Candidates who violate the rules would face criminal and civil penalties. If the council okays the new rules tonight – which Mayor Beverly Johnson, Vice Mayor Doug deHaan and City Councilman Frank Matarrese have said they wish to do – they could take effect immediately.
“I welcome the Council’s interest in campaign finance reform and strongly encourage your efforts to limit the influence of money in our political process,” local resident Jon Spangler said in an e-mail to the city. “Unfortunately, the issue and the ordinance received far too little public review or input. As a result, the ordinance is inadequate to significantly limit the cost of election campaigns in Alameda.”
He joins the local League of Women Voters and former Alameda Journal editor-turned-campaign-strategist Jeff Mitchell – who has worked on both Johnson’s and Matarrese’s most recent campaigns – in asking the council to allow the public more of a chance to weigh in on the new campaign finance rules.
Spangler said he’s concerned the ordinance doesn’t control spending by political action committees that aid campaigns. And he and the League want the council to consider adding voluntary spending limits to the ordinance.
The ordinance doesn’t limit the amount of money a candidate for City Council, mayor, auditor or treasurer can spend on their own campaign, and ballot measures are also exempt from the rules as written.
Mitchell said wants the council-created Sunshine Task Force to which Johnson appointed him to have the chance to review it.
“I must admit that I was disappointed that an issue of such import as campaign finance reform was placed onto your agenda and voted upon without first making any meaningful attempt to solicit the wider public s opinion on this vital matter,” Mitchell wrote in a June 5 e-mail to the city. “Moreover, I believe the current ordinance before you is incomplete and contains several considerable loopholes.”
City Attorney Teresa Highsmith offered in late April to draft the ordinance at the behest of Johnson, deHaan and Matarrese. Council members Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore had asked that the public be offered the chance to say what they wanted to see, and they said the Sunshine Task Force was the appropriate venue for that input to be gathered.
But Johnson said at the council’s June 1 meeting that the public had waited long enough for the rules, and that any problems could be fixed at a later date.
Tam also argued at that meeting that passage of the rules in the middle of campaign season poses a conflict of interest for members of the council, two of whom – Matarrese and Gilmore – are running for mayor. Her seat and Matarrese’s are open this fall.
It was not clear if a decision to impose the new rules tonight would offer sitting council members an advantage over challengers in the November races. The next round of campaign finance disclosures isn’t due out until July.
Only two other people – former councilman Tony Daysog and Hospital Board trustee Rob Bonta – have announced plans to run for seats on the dais, though Johnson has been widely rumored to be considering a run for one of the open council seats in the wake of her defeat in the race for Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker’s seat.
The council nixed proposed rules that would have required written disclosures for contributors offering as little as $50 and oral disclosures for contributions from anyone seeking discretionary decisions from the Community Improvement Commission or Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority, the two redevelopment boards on which the council members all sit. It was originally slated to go into effect 30 days after passage.