Ethics Review Board Finalizes Campaign Finance Proposals

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Edmond Ortiz for the Rivard Report

Ethics Review Board member Linda Jackson (center) smiles while making a point during the board's meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.

A package of recommended revisions to the City’s campaign finance code is on its way to the City Council Governance Committee. It will not, however, include one Council member’s proposal for a higher degree of disclosure on campaign contributions.

The committee will meet Sept. 20 to review the proposed changes, which the City’s Ethics Review Board (ERB) completed Tuesday night.

The board unanimously voted not to include a Council Consideration Request (CCR) by Councilman John Courage (D9) which would have required municipal candidates to report the job title and employer of anyone who contributes more than $100 to their campaign.

Courage previously said such a rule would foster greater transparency and help ensure that local candidates and their contributors are obeying campaign finance laws.

Courage did not attend Tuesday’s board meeting.

ERB members’ review of surveys showed that many accept the basic disclosure requirements that are currently in place, such as reporting campaign contributors’ names and phone numbers.

“[People are] happy to see the government opening up about people making contributions,” board member Ruben De Leon said.

Other people in the survey feared full disclosure and the possible repercussions of a contributor’s employer and occupation being made public, De Leon explained.

“They [are] afraid of exposing themselves to public scrutiny, exposing their employers,” he added.

ERB member Rodney Van Kirk said he could understand that more people favor a higher degree of disclosure for federal and state candidates, but not for local candidates.

With more disclosure in municipal campaign finance, more community members would know who is contributing to which candidates or initiative, he said. That could lead to political problems, especially if the candidate or initiative is surrounded by controversy.

“There’s probably more negative than positive that comes from [heightened disclosure],” he added.

Board Chairwoman Adriana Garcia said further research suggested that more disclosure requirements could “decrease political activity” in a polarized political environment.

“I think it has a chilling effect on the local level,” board member Magdalena Alvarado added.

Assistant City Attorney Camila Kunau said she has not received requests for more information on campaign contributors throughout her career with the City.

“There [are] so many reasons we can’t include [Courage’s proposal] and few reasons why we should,” Alvarado said.

The ERB unanimously approved verbiage that would ensure that candidates take all required steps to close campaigns within a timely manner following an election. Compliance auditor Tina Flores said adding this language would shift much of the responsibility of formally concluding campaigns from the treasurer to the candidates.

“People are leaving their campaigns closed when in reality they’re still open, and the candidate hasn’t done that last step to tie up all the loose ends,” ERB member Wade Shelton said.

Other proposed campaign finance code revisions include stronger language forbidding owners or top executives of primary bidders on high-profile City contracts from contributing to a Council campaign within a certain timeframe when the contract is out to bid. The same rule would apply to subcontractors of those primary bidders.

The governance committee’s meeting is slated for Sept. 20 at 11:30 a.m. in the City Hall media briefing room.

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