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Council stalls on campaign finance rules

Submitted by on 1, June 16, 2010 – 4:55 am7 Comments

The City Council stalled on okaying new campaign finance rules that one mayoral candidate called unfair and politically motivated. They’ll submit the proposed rules to more public scrutiny.

Members of the council bowed to public calls for a more comprehensive process around campaign finance reform, voting 3-2 Tuesday to allow more public input.

Efforts to draft the new rules will head to the city’s Sunshine Task Force for their consideration, and input from entities like the local League of Women Voters will be solicited. And the council will wait until January 2011 to put the new rules in place.

City Councilman Frank Matarrese stepped away from Mayor Beverly Johnson and Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, with whom he has formed a council majority for the past several months, to vote in favor of putting things on hold. DeHaan and Johnson voted against extending the review process and implementation date.

What swayed him, Matarrese said, was a recent Alameda Democratic Club meeting on campaign finance reform whose participants weren’t even aware new rules were being considered.

“I felt really that we’re talking in a vacuum here,” Matarrese said.

Councilwoman Marie Gilmore said the council should wait until after the November election to enact the rules because she said they would offer an unfair advantage to people already running in the mayor and council races. Both Gilmore and Matarrese are running for mayor. The deadline to declare candidacy isn’t until August.

“This has been rushed, it’s politically motivated, and it hasn’t have the proper public debate,” Gilmore said. She said cash collected before the ordinance was to be put in place wouldn’t be subject to the new rules, and she called on candidates who had already collected money not subject to the limits to give it back.

An angry Mayor Beverly Johnson said the rules were long overdue and that they were for the public’s benefit.

“Anybody opposed? Me, because I don’t like the implementation date,” Johnson said as she took the vote. “So we have no campaign finance reform until sometime after January 1, 2011.”

City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said there are very few aspects of campaign finance that the city can regulate, and she claimed they are largely covered by the ordinance that was before the council.

Highsmith said the city can’t control spending by political action committees, as some had called for. And she said voluntary spending limits requested by the League of Women Voters would require the city to offer matching campaign funds.

The rules before the council Tuesday would have limited contributions to $250 per person and would have barred contributions from city contractors. If approved, they would have gone into effect immediately.

Candidates who violated the rules would have faced criminal and civil penalties.

7 Comments »

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Although I am disappointed that the 2010 city elections will not be covered by substantive campaign finance reform, the ordinance that the Council approved June 1 was being rushed through under the pressure of political considerations and was not worthy of becoming law.

    I hope the further review and solicitation of public comments under the Sunshine Task Force/Committee will lead to an ordinance that is more comprehensive, better written, conflict-free, and truly effective in improving the tone and cost of Alameda’s elections. We certainly need it, and I plan to be there.

    I hope many other people will join me in helping to “clean up” Alameda’s electoral politics.

  • RM says:

    I’ll be looking closely at every piece of campaign literature that I see.

    Who printed it? Who paid for it?

    In addition, I’ll be looking closely at endorsements of each candidate and the possible motivations of the endorsers.

  • Kate Quick says:

    I was sorry I was not able to be at Council last night – I was coming back from the League of Women Voters National Convention in Atlanta. But I am heartened by the decision to offer some transparency to this vital piece of City legislation. At our convention I attended some mighty fine workshops on the subject of transparency in local, as well as state and federal levels of government. This is a great example of what we can do to insure the process is open and transparent. Thanks, Frank for your intelligence to take a stand on this issue. And thanks, Lena and Marie for your steadfastness to the principles of public involvement and transparency.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    I second Kate Quick’s thanks and her sentiments about transparency. We can always us more of it in Alameda
    and at every level of government.

  • Carole says:

    The proposed campaign finance ordinance would help incumbents like Lena Tam or Marie Gilmore or Doug deHaan or Frank Matarrese. But it would disadvantage their opponents in fundraising for the upcoming November 2010 election. For example, Matarrese’s filings show he has already received large checks from the labor unions. Interesting that Tam and Gilmore recognized the conflict of interest, but Matarrese did not.

    There are citizen groups, aside from the Sunshine Task Force that are interested in developing campaign finance ordinances. In the City of Hayward, one group formed and help pass such an ordinance. See w.ci.hayward.ca.us/citygov/meetings/cca/rp/…/rp020924-08.pdf

  • ct says:

    Thank you, Councilman Mataresse, for understanding the importance of not ramming through this poorly patched-together campaign-finance-reform ordinance.

    And many, many thanks to Councilwoman Gilmore for being the City Council’s voice of reason on this issue.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Mayor Johnson offered a reconsideration of the Council’s June 15 decision on campaign finance reform at last night’s special joint City Council/ARRA/CIC meeting, but only deHaan and Johnson favored rescinding the vote taken 9 days ago. (No actual vote was taken last night but three Council members–Tam, Matarrese, and Gilmore–opposed the reconsideration during Council discussions.)

    The Sunshine Committee will hold a public forum on Saturday, July 17 at which campaign finance and open government initiatives will be discussed. The Committee and the Council both hope that many members of the community will attend and offer their ideas to improve transparency and accountability in Alameda governance.

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