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Guest Opinion | Set Limits on Local Campaigns

Published on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 | 10:01 am

[UPDATED] We are writing in strong opposition to the Pasadena City Council’s proposal to adopt an ordinance providing for unlimited campaign contributions to city candidates.  We are deeply troubled by the city council’s proposal in a time in our history when decisions such as Citizens United v. FEC have caused unlimited, anonymous donations to flood the coffers of our politicians, preventing average people from having a shot at holding elected office.

At their meeting of August 16, 2021, the Pasadena City Council voted 6-1 to approve an “ordinance codifying no limit on campaign contributions” for local races for Pasadena City Council and Mayor.  It was postponed due to a packed agenda, but will be heard at the Monday October 18th meeting. If passed, this ordinance would override state law for city candidates (which sets limits at $4900 per donor) and will allow candidates for Pasadena City Council and Mayor to accept huge, unlimited donations.

We strongly oppose this undemocratic ordinance which puts power in the hands of moneyed interests. We call on Mayor Gordo and Councilmembers to rescind this decision.  Rather, we request the city council place reasonable per-contributor limits on direct funding of local campaigns the same way sensible cities such as Los Angeles, Alhambra and South Pasadena have.  Los Angeles, with a population of almost 4 million people has a limit of $800, in contrast to Pasadena with a much, much smaller population of only 140,000 people, while sister-city Alhambra has set limits much lower: $250 per contributor. 

Pasadena is one of the most inequitable cities in California with ever-widening economic divides.  The wealthy already have far too much sway in Pasadena politics.  We agree with the Campaign Legal Center which states:“The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to participate fully in the political process.  It is well-known that the dependence of political candidates on wealthy special interests is a serious flaw in our political system, and makes elected officials responsive to their large donors rather than to the public. The tremendous power of special interest money in politics often drowns out the voice of everyday Americans, threatens our First Amendment freedoms, and erodes the foundations of our entire democracy.”

Additionally, they stated that in order to restore fairness to our political system, the passing and enforcing of strong campaign finance reforms that help guarantee a democracy responsive to the people is urgently needed, including placing reasonable limits on the funding of campaigns, complete transparency of campaign spending, and public financing of elections.  (Campaign Legal Center 2020; Brennan Center 2018; Public Citizen 2020; Common Cause 2016)  

Frankly, it is alarming that the city council voted on August 16 to  place no dollar limits on local campaign contributions.  This proposal is completely at odds with the views of most voters.According to the Pew Research Center, “77% of Americans say there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and groups can spend on campaigns.”  The Pasadena City Council took a fringe and untenable position on this matter.  Pasadena is actually an ideal city to show how effective grassroots, door-to-door politics can be.

As a candidate, Mayor Gordo promised to ensure that “local city government is responsive…and accountable to residents,” and exemplifies “a Pasadena that truly listens, is inclusive of everyone, [and] stands with our families, our seniors, and our youth.”  

It’s time now for Mayor Victor Gordo and Pasadena Councilmembers to lead the fight for a truly inclusive local city government.  We respectfully urge you, Mayor Gordo and Councilmembers, to stand with our families and communities in urgently drafting and voting on a municipal ordinance to place reasonable limits per contributor on the funding of local campaigns in Pasadena, following the lead of dozens of other Southern California cities.  Doing so would engender trust in Pasadena city leaders and candidates and help create a City that is truly more inclusive of everyone.

The Pasadena City Council will meet next Monday October 18, 2021 to conduct a first reading of the ordinance codifying no limit on campaign contributions.  The agenda for the October 18 Council should be available by 6 P.M. this Thursday October 14, 2021 at the Pasadena City Council Website, including information about how you can submit public comment to the Council with your feedback on agenda items to be heard.    

Ellen Finkelpearl, Ph.D., is a Pasadena resident; Classics Professor; CA Democratic Party delegate, AD41

Denise Robb, Ph.D., is a Pasadena resident; Political Science Professor

Una Lee Jost, Esq., is a Pasadena resident; Nonprofit Organizations Attorney; CA Democratic Party delegate, AD41 (2019-2021)

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