County Waters Down Political Donation Limitation Ordinance

(January 28)  With elections for two of its members approaching, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved liberalizing the terms of the campaign finance reform ordinance the board put into place two years ago.
On August 28, 2012, with much fanfare the board ratified restrictions on the amount of money candidates for county office could receive from individual donors, a measure taken in the wake of a multitude of scandals and prosecutions of local elected official on political corruption charges, nearly all of which involved action taken to benefit major campaign donors.
That ordinance restricted individual donors from providing more than $3,900 to any single candidate per election cycle and small contributor committees from giving more than $7,800 per election cycle.
Members of the board, in particular Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, touted the measure as one that demonstrated a new ethos in governance at the county level and a determination to reform politics and do away with the pay-to-play reputation that dogged the county’s leadership. At the time, Rutherford said it was her and her colleagues’ intent to “make it clear to the voters and taxpayers of this county that the board of supervisors and other county-wide elected officials cannot be bought by large donors.”
On Tuesday January 28, however, the board second-guessed itself, revising the ordinance to allow candidates for county office to accept up to $4,100 from individuals and $8,200 from small contributor committees for a general election prior to the primary election.
The revised ordinance will also, according to county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux,  allow “in part that contributions may be made after an election only to the extent that the contribution does not exceed net debts outstanding from the election and does not otherwise exceed the applicable contribution limit for that election. This portion of new Subsection 12.4305(b) is based on the Political Reform Act
provision on this issue, i.e., Government Code section 85316. New Subsection 12.4305(b) also provides that contributions made to retire debt incurred for elections held prior to the effective date of the ordinance, i.e., January 1, 2013, are not subject to the contribution limits of the ordinance. This portion of new Subsection 12.4305(b) is based on Government Code section 85321. New Subsection 12.4305(b) reflects the intent of the county when adopting the original Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance.”
Rutherford, now the chairman of the board, is one of the two members of the board whose position is up for election this year.
In December 2012, more than three months after passing the ordinance, the county entered into a contract with the California Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce its provisions. San Bernardino County was the first and remains the only county in the state to contract with that state political activities regulatory agency to do its enforcing.
Devereaux suggested in the staff report that was submitted to the board prior to the vote on amending the ordinance that the changes should be made to bring the county’s campaign limitation standards in line with those at the state level.
“The FPPC and the county recommend that the campaign finance reform ordinance be amended so that it better comports with the provisions of the Political Reform Act,” Devereaux wrote in his report.
Higher contribution limitations tend to benefit incumbent candidates, since incumbents generally have greater contact with, access to and authority to impact political donors with business before government.
In this way, the board’s action this week would appear to have an immediate beneficial effect on Rutherford, who is eligible to vie for reelection in the Second District, and Curt Hagman, currently a member of the State Assembly who is running for Fourth District supervisor this year. The Fourth District incumbent, Gary Ovitt, announced earlier this year he will not seek reelection.

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