Naming Names

City Council Committee Recommends Publicizing Identities of
Campaign Donors

by Drew Mackie

The prospect of publicizing the identities of campaign donors in
Santa Barbara city elections dominated conversation at Tuesday’s
meeting of the City Council’s Ordinance committee. While the
previous week’s meeting had the committee addressing the
implications of changing the city’s election calendar to align with
the even-year polls used by most other jurisdictions, this week
committee members focused on the virtues of having candidates for
public office submit their contribution records to a Web site that
would allow voters access to up-to-date evidence of who might be
influencing a given campaign.

Though the matter will be discussed further at future meetings,
the committee — which consists of city councilmembers Iya Falcone,
Grant House, and Brian Barnwell — voted unanimously to recommend
requiring candidates to publish online documentation of donations.
The California Political Reform Act already requires candidates to
provide these records to the city clerk, but this additional
measure would greatly increase voters’ access to the information,
which would also be reported more frequently.

“I feel transparency and disclosure are the key to getting
people to make informed decisions in elections,” Falcone said. When
House raised the concern that hackers could affect the published
records and sway the opinions of voters with false information,
administrative services director Marcelo Lopez explained that the
software — which has already been implemented for Los Angeles city
elections — is secure. City Clerk services manager Cynthia
Rodriguez added that the system puts information online in a PDF
file format, which is difficult for outsiders to change. The
software could be purchased from the City of Los Angeles for
between $25,000 and $30,000 and distributed to various campaign
treasurers.

Despite her enthusiasm, Falcone was concerned that the process
of publishing financial records so frequently — as often as once
every 24 hours in the last week before an election — could be
restrictive for candidates running simpler, cheaper elections. “If
you have my friend Joe who’s a CPA [acting as a treasurer], then
that may be a problem,” she said. The committee discussed the fact
that cities that currently mandate online donation disclosure
exempt campaigns costing less than $1,000, and considered whether
that number should be higher.

Also discussed was the possibility of prohibiting donations in
the name of another person without the subsequent disclosure of the
money’s source within a short period of time. City Attorney Steve
Wiley explained that the money that drives elections should be
grouped into two types: contributions from those supporting the
candidates and money spent by the candidates themselves. Free
speech laws prohibit government agencies from restricting how much
promotion candidates pay for out of their own pockets. But
California state law requires that the source of all outside
contributions over $100 be disclosed within 60 days after the
donation is made. Committee members agreed that the 60-day deadline
is too long, making it easy for those behind a donation to remain
anonymous until after an election. Furthermore, Falcone, House, and
Barnwell agreed they wanted donations larger than $100 to be linked
to such information as the donor’s occupation and employer, as
these facts could help voters judge whether or not a financial
allotment was given with the intention of buying an election.

Other possible changes include expanding the definition of
“contribution” to include all items of value provided to a
candidate and mandating that campaign mailers clearly disclose
which organization sent the literature, if the organization is
affiliated with a candidate, and who might be included in its
membership. In House’s words, such a measure could prevent an
organization calling itself the “the Association for Furry Bunnies”
from endorsing a candidate without telling voters who belongs to
the organization and what their motives might be. Wiley said such
an ordinance might be possible.

But the committee voted unanimously to defer to current state
law on most other election matters, as they determined those
existing legal precautions were adequate to ensure clean elections
in Santa Barbara. Additional election-related provisions will be
discussed at the next Ordinance Committee meeting in March.

Login

Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.