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First Reading of No-Limit Campaign Contribution Ordinance Set for Monday

Published on Monday, October 18, 2021 | 5:00 am

The City Council on Monday is scheduled to conduct the first reading of an ordinance that would allow local campaigns to be conducted without contribution limits. 

Historically, local council campaigns have not had contribution limits, but Assembly Bill 571, which took effect in January, limits campaign contributions to $4,900 per contributor during an election. 

In order to maintain control of local campaign finance contribution limits, the council was forced to pass the ordinance.

The nomination period for the June 7 election opens on Feb. 14. Seats 3, 5 and 7 will be up for grabs. 

At least three candidates have already announced their intentions to run, including District 5 incumbent Councilmember Jess Rivas. 

On June 28, an ad hoc committee consisting of Mayor Victor Gordo and Councilmembers Steve Madison and Felicia Williams met with City Attorney Michele Bagneris and City Clerk Mark Jomsky to discuss the issue.

According to the Public Affairs Council, a group of nonpartisan and nonpolitical professionals that advance the field of public affairs, campaign limits don’t  clean up campaigns, but instead provide an advantage to incumbents. 

Political science professors from the University of Missouri have studied almost 66,000 state legislative races over three decades, ending in 2018, looking at the effects of state laws that limit contributions from corporations and individuals. They discovered “strong pro-incumbent effects from both full public financing and prohibitions on corporate independent expenditures.

Other reports claim that campaign limits force challengers to spend time playing catch up against incumbents and lessens their time speaking to the voters.  

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that contribution limits can be unconstitutional if they are “too low and too strict.” The court observed that such low limits can “harm the electoral process by preventing challengers from mounting effective campaigns against incumbent officeholders, thereby reducing democratic accountability.”

Gordo, the first local challenger to unseat an incumbent since 1987 when Bill Paparian defeated Jo Heckman in 1987 said he could not have won the mayor’s race with campaign limits. 

“There’s no way I could have been an option as a candidate, a viable candidate, without the ability to ask residents to contribute dollars, and they did,” Gordo said.

Local residents say that unlimited contributions will only hurt the city.

“I’m shocked and stupefied as to why anyone in their right mind would propose this undemocratic ordinance let alone vote yes on it,” wrote Melissa Michelson. “This country needs more campaign laws, not fewer.”

Once two readings of the ordinance have been conducted, the ordinance will replace AB 571.

When the matter came before the City Council in August, Gordo and Councilmembers Tyron Hampton, John Kennedy, Steve Madison, Gene Masuda, and Felicia Williams voted for it.

Rivas voted against the item. Vice Mayor Andy Wilson was absent.

“Limits level the playing field, allowing more citizens to run for city council, to create a wider representation of the populace,” wrote Ellen Finkelpearl. “Limits keep campaigning within reasonable parameters and allow for transparency and clean elections. I urge you to turn down this undemocratic ordinance and instead to codify limits like those of Alhambra.”

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