Council passes limits on political donationsAround the City Thursday, June 6th, 2013
Political parties have until July 20 to give unlimited campaign contributions in San Diego City Council races because of Tuesday’s 7-1 Council vote that will limit donations to $20,000 in citywide races, and $10,000 in Council district elections.
The easy vote by the Council’s 5 Democrats and 2 Republicans for campaign limits did not go along party lines and only Republican Councilmember Scott Sherman voted no, saying limits should be set at the start of the next election cycle.
This vote has to be repeated by the Council June 18 in a second formal reading before it becomes official July 20, since that is the statutory 45 days required before it becomes law.
Although the races for mayor, city attorney, and councilmembers are officially non-partisan, that wasn’t the way it played out in the controversial race for mayor in 2012 that pitted a conservative gay Republican against a liberal Democratic congressman.
The Republican Party gave $829,000 to mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio and this included a $65,000 donation by U/T publisher Doug Manchester, according to the newspaper. The Democratic Party gave now-Mayor Bob Filner $237,500, according to documents.
With July 20 a short time away, 9th District Councilmember Marti Emerald said, “I would ask both political parties to respect the intent of the Council and not contribute large sums in any race.”
“I hope we send a message to the electorate that we don’t buy elections,” continued Emerald, adding that gigantic contributions “raise the risk of corruption.”
8th District Councilmember David Alvarez said he was troubled over the timing of the law, citing the possibility the Republican Party could donate $100,000 to the re-election of Lorie Zapf as an example.
Zapf recused herself from the vote, saying she did not want to vote on something that could affect or benefit her. She currently represents the 6th District, but will run for re-election in 2014 in the 2nd District because she now lives there due to redistricting boundaries that changed due to the 2010 census.
Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the Ethics Commission which made the presentation in favor of the campaign party limits, answered Alvarez’s comment by saying “in your scenario … there would be ample opportunity for another political party to support Councilmember Zapf’s opponent.”
Before Zapf left Council chambers, Council President Todd Gloria asked Deputy City Attorney Sharon Spivak if others on the Council should abstain from voting, citing Zapf’s reason. Spivak said the vote would affect all councilmembers.
However, the only two other councilmembers eligible for re-election are Alvarez and Myrtle Cole, who won a special election May 21 in the 4th District to replace Anthony Young, who left his seat to head the local American Red Cross Jan. 1.
Although Republican Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Mark Kersey voted against these limits May 15 at the rules committee because they wanted lower limits, both voted in favor of it on Tuesday.
“We should have a level playing field,” said Kersey.
“I’m not sure that’s the magic number, but we’ll find out,” said Faulconer. “I’m hopeful this will work. I think it’s in the best interests of the City.”
A federal judge in 2010 struck down the City’s campaign limits by political parties, saying they were set too low. With no law in place, the effect allowed anyone to donate to a political party which in turn forwarded that to the candidate.
Current individual contributions to races are still limited to $500 per person.
Sherman said he was conflicted over the change in law now, saying it was “changing the rules in the middle of the game” and they should go into effect at the start of a new election cycle.
Although many councilmembers said they wished this could go into effect immediately, Spivak told them laws passed only on an emergency basis could go into immediate effect. “Elections do not fall into (that),” said the deputy city attorney.
Alvarez said he preferred the effective date for the ordinance to be June 4, and wondered if that would make the City vulnerable to a lawsuit.
“Anyone can sue alleging anything,” replied Spivak.
Will Moore, general counsel to the local Democratic Party, told the Council, “We do need limits.”
All other speakers were in favor of setting limits to political parties’ donations.
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