Santa Barbara Supervisor Laura Capps Raises Indelicate Question About Pay-to-Play Politics
New California Law Bars Elected Officials from Voting on Items in Which Donor Gave $250 or More
Less than a month into her first term on the county Board of Supervisors, Laura Capps raised the indelicate question of pay-to-play politics and how a new state law barring elected officials from voting on items in which even low-level campaign donors have a stake will be regulated and enforced in Santa Barbara County.
Capps broached the matter while the board was deliberating a controversial flood control project slated for Los Alamos. She noted that a new bill — Senate Bill 1489 — bars elected officials from voting on any item in which a donor gave $250 or more. That law went into effect just this year and could have massive ramifications for how politics plays out at all levels of government throughout Santa Barbara County not to mention the entire state.
Capps pointed out that she’d immersed herself in such issues since her days on Capitol Hill in the 1990s, working behind the scenes on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure subsequently invalidated by the Supreme Court. By contrast, she didn’t mention her pointed attacks on fellow supervisor Das Williams when she ran against him three years ago for 1st District Supervisor. In that race, Capps blasted Williams for taking large campaign donations from those in the cannabis industry.
“Here we are,” she declared, “a new day.” How will the county regulate and enforce the new law, she asked “when donations are made and permits are required?”
The question was not on the supervisors’ agenda but at Capps instigation, it managed to swerve in from left field. In response, County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato swooped in, announcing that she’d schedule the issue for discussion at a future board meeting.
While none of the other supervisors addressed the issue head-on, it did spark them — albeit awkwardly — to disclose private (ex-parte) discussions they’d had with advocates from either side of the heated debate about the Los Alamos flood control project. That item sailed through on a 5-0 vote although some boardmembers expressed reservations about a project that had already been approved many years ago. Supervisor Joan Hartmann suggested the supervisors might need to adopt a policy on disclosing ex-parte communications prior to deliberating and deciding certain issues.