Campaign Finance Reform Rebuffed

by Nick Welsh

Those hoping to see the City of Santa Barbara provide public financing for political candidates as part of a package of campaign finance reforms suffered a significant setback last week, when Santa Barbara City Councilmember Roger Horton (pictured) — who serves on the council’s ad hoc reform committee — voiced strong opposition to the idea. “That’s a ball of snakes I just don’t want to get into,” said Horton, who also chairs the council’s Finance Committee. “It presupposes the existence of a source of money we don’t have.” Mayor Marty Blum, who also sits on the reform committee, said she likes the idea of public financing, but shares Horton’s concerns. “We still don’t know what the cost would be, let alone where the money would come from,” she said.

Members of Santa Barbara’s Progressive Coalition recently endorsed a local plan modeled on a statewide campaign finance reform proposal that would include public financing for candidates who agree to abide by certain spending limits. Many campaign finance reform advocates worry that reform packages lacking a public financing component — but limiting the amount individual candidates can raise and individual donors can give — inadvertently increase the influence of political action committees and independent expenditure committees. While the escalating cost of running for office has sparked interest by some councilmembers in campaign finance reform, most councilmembers are also acutely aware of the city’s financial limitations, especially given the tension between the Police Officers Association and City Hall regarding contract talks. “It would be hard to justify spending the money on elections if we had to cut funding for parks and other popular programs,” said Councilmember Helene Schneider. Horton said he would prefer imposing expenditure limits, increasing the frequency of campaign donation reports, and pushing TV stations to offer candidates expanded access to the airwaves.

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