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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