Council stalls on campaign finance rules
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.