Chino Council Rejects Being Constrained By Donation Limits

The Chino City Council this week quietly took action that runs counter to a galloping trend throughout California over the last two years relating to what some consider to be political reform and others feel is a stifling of free speech.
The city council on November 2 opted out of the campaign funding restrictions imposed by Assembly Bill 571, passed in 2019, which, when applied, prohibits elected officials in the state from receiving political contributions of more than $4,900 from any single donor.
For years, political scientists and political reformers have decried the role of money in American politics. Generally, the scale of monetary influence is greater at the national level than at the state or local level. Modern day presidential campaigns involve hundreds of millions of dollars. U.S. Senate candidates can spend upwards of tens of millions of dollars to gain election or reelection. In many cases, members of the House of Representatives have $2 million, $3 million, $4 million or more in their campaign war chests. This, critics say, makes it virtually impossible for an average man or woman to reach political office, unless he or she has the backing of many wealthy interests. Once those politicians accept that money, according to those calling for political reform, they become beholden to their donors, to whom they prove more loyal than to the voters they represent. Efforts to limit campaign donations to national candidates, however, have been rejected by the United States Supreme Court, which has ruled that giving money to the candidate of one’s choice is tantamount to free speech, and speech under the U.S. Constitution cannot be curtailed.
Though the magnitude of money involved in local campaigns does not normally approach that seen in federal races, money still plays a huge role in who is able to get elected to positions such as governor, or state senator or assemblyman or assemblywoman or county supervisor or mayor or councilwoman or councilman.
On October 8, 2019 Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 571, which took effect on January 1, 2021, imposing a $4,900 limit on campaign contributions to candidates for local elective offices in cities that do not have a local campaign ordinance. Simultaneously, Government Code Section 85702.5 allows municipalities to impose limitations on campaign contributions to candidates for elective city offices that are different from that of the State of California, meaning a city or town can limit contributions per donor to something less than $4,900 or more than $4,900 or, if its officials so choose, impose no limits on campaign contributions.
As of yet, there have been no effective challenges of Assembly Bill 571 or Government Code Section 85702.5 on constitutional grounds.
Many cities in California, in the spirit of political reform and ending, or making a gesture toward ending, pay-to-play politics, have simply let the $4,900 campaign contribution limit stand.
Some feel the campaign contribution limit is a step in the right direction. Others, however, have said it unfairly intrudes on the rights of those who want to put their money where their passion and beliefs are, such that they can support to whatever extent they wish the political candidates of their choice. Still others have said that reducing the amount of money that any candidate can get solidifies the hold on office held by incumbents, since those dissatisfied with the performance of those in office are no longer able to commit sufficient money to effectively drive those who have a vice-grip on office out of office.
This week in Chino, the city council rejected the concept of limitations on political donations, period, passing an ordinance which states, “There shall be no limit on the monetary contributions from a person or campaign committee to a candidate for any city elective offices, including, without limitation, candidates for mayor and council member.”
The council did not even debate the issue, as the ordinance was placed on the meeting agenda’s consent calendar, which is reserved for routine and noncontroversial items.
A resolution accompanying the ordinance that was passed by the council read, “[T]he city council desires to impose no limitation on campaign contributions within the city.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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