Campaign Reform Round One

by Nick Welsh

Still hurting from the high cost of running for office, members of the Santa Barbara City Council took a few baby steps toward campaign finance reform Tuesday afternoon. By a unanimous vote, the council approved the formation of a new committee to study how other cities have dealt with the issue and to what effect. Councilmember Iya Falcone noted that when former city councilmember Tom Roberts first ran for office in the early ’90s, he spent only $15,000. By contrast, Falcone spent $82,000 on her hard-fought ’05 reelection effort, up from the $65,000 she spent four years earlier; Roger Horton, meanwhile, spent $73,000 in a cakewalk. Little discussion was devoted to the growing influence of deep-pocket donors and powerful unions; more attention went to ensuring that any reform effort not give incumbents and independent expenditure committees even more advantage than they currently enjoy. Falcone cautioned that past efforts to reform statewide campaign financing failed to pass constitutional muster. Councilmember Das Williams — now campaigning hard for a supervisorial seat — argued that without publicly bankrolled campaigns, he warned, candidates will have no recourse but to seek money from special interests. Councilmember Helene Schneider voiced concern regarding the source of such public money. The new committee is made up of Mayor Marty Blum and Councilmembers Horton and Brian Barnwell.

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