Council Votes To Revamp Campaign Finance Ordinance
Was Swift Action Necessary? Apparently
September 24, 2015
By Lynne Bronstein
With another City Council election still months away, the council on Monday, September 15 voted to amend the Culver City Municipal Code pertaining to campaign finance and other political activities.
The vote was 4-0 in favor with one abstention-Meghan Sahli-Wells, who, alone of the current council membership, will be running to retain her seat in the April 2016 election.
For over 25 years, Culver City has had its own regulations related to the financing of campaigns. The regulations include restrictions on the amount of contributions which may be made to candidates and campaign committees. The code has not been amended since 1989. Since that time, the federal Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings curtailing the ability of government to control private campaign activity.
In 2014 the City Council appointed a subcommittee consisting of Vice Mayor Andrew Weissman and council member Jim Clarke to work with City staff to review the code and recommend appropriate amendments for updating the code in the light of current law. Their recommendations are reflected in the proposed ordinance.
The update includes definitions of terms, limits on contributions (a limit of $1000 per individual and $2000 per “small contributor committee”), limits on contractor contributions ($250 maximum), and regulations on election campaign accounts and records, mass mailing and political advertisement disclosure, citizen complaints, and violations, among other stipulations.
Speaking on the amendments, Jamie Wallace pleaded with the council to wait until after the 2016 election before passing the update.
“Campaign finance reform is a really good thing,” she said. “However-and it’s a big ‘however’-the current ordinance change is not well-timed. If the changes go into effect after the 2016 election and if I were to run for council I would be subject to a different set of regulations. I would be at a disadvantage.”
This led to a discussion between council and city staff. Jim Clarke asked the staff if there would be any risk if the changes were not made until after April 2016.
“There is some considerable risk,” said City Attorney Carol Schwab. “The provisions in the current state code are not compliant with current state law.” She noted that there is a potential for lawsuits and that a case brought successfully against the city would result in the suspension of the entire campaign finance ordinance.
Mayor Mehaul O’ Leary stated that “we really need to act” in regard to the campaign finance reform. Despite the potential awkwardness of the changes coming as a local election nears, he felt that delaying the changes would “put the council in a difficult position” and that “the burden needs to be upon us” to pass the changes.