We all want fair and transparent elections.
Long before I entered the political arena, decision makers in San Diego County set campaign contribution limits for county campaigns so that individuals could not buy elections.
Today, individuals can contribute up to $750 for a county candidate. However, a loophole created recently in law allows individuals to skirt that limit by writing a check of any amount to a local political party, which takes a cut off the top before forwarding the balance directly to a candidate. That’s wrong and unfair and reduces the transparency of our county elections.
For that reason, I was quick to offer a second to Supervisor Ron Roberts’ proposal to set fair and reasonable caps on the sums that political parties can contribute to county campaigns.
Supervisor Ron Roberts’ proposal sets a $25,000 cap for supervisor races and $50,000 for races for countywide office. It passed on a 4-1 vote.
That’s good news for anyone interested in a level political playing field. Political parties screamed about these caps. Why? Because they skim up to 30 percent of receipts from large contributions to manage their party infrastructure.
Most of us don’t have a spare million dollars to support a candidate. But for those who do, the parties can no longer serve as pass-through accounts to skirt county election laws.
That what our action reins in.
As we debated the issue, a big elephant — or donkey — in the room was the free-flying allegation that the caps would curb free speech. I see no muzzle associated with our action. I see a safeguard that prevents big-dollar donors from circumventing the law and not complying with sensible county election rules.
To me, this is an equality issue. Opponents say the limits favor incumbents. I disagree. The incumbents, in most cases, are the ones that know people who can fire off contributions well beyond the $750 cap. Now they won’t be able to do that.
Because of a US Supreme Court decision, they can continue to skirt the law by donating to independent expenditure committees, but the county has no control over this behavior. Election law prohibits IE committees from coordinating activities with campaigns.
Our approval of Supervisor Ron Roberts’ proposal goes a long way toward keeping San Diego County elections fair and transparent. You should know who is supporting or opposing your favorite candidate. This positive step limits the ability of a few very-wealthy people from trying to influence our local elections.