Council Clarifies Rules About Campaign Contributions

The Murrieta City Council this week approved new regulations regarding candidate campaign contributions that legal officials believe will ...

The Murrieta City Council this week approved new regulations regarding candidate campaign contributions that legal officials believe will bring the city more in line with Constitutional requirements.

By a 4-1 vote, the council approved combining two previous expenditure limits into one limit that will apply to all future candidates in the city. Candidates will be be permitted to accept campaign contributions of up to $1,000 from a single individual and there will be no limit on total campaign expenditures.

In 2004, the city council approved a voluntary expenditure limit of $1.50 per registered voter. In a city of 107,000, a candidate's total amount collected and spent on a campaign theoretically could top $100,000.

Note, however, the term "voluntary limit." In the previous code, candidates had the option of accepting or rejecting the expenditure limit. Those accepting the limit were allowed to accept up to $1,000 per contribution while those not accepting the voluntary expenditure limit could accept only $500.

Christina Cameron, an attorney specializing in election laws and ethics, told council members that recent changes in the law makes such an option of two contribution limits problematic.

"In our opinion, based on case laws as recent as 2014, it is likely that differential contribution limits depending on expenditure limits probably cannot be upheld by the Constitution," Cameron said. "For that reason, we suggest the city adopts a single contribution limit. The question then is what to do with the expenditure limit."

Cameron said that a survey conducted by her law firm showed that 16 of 51 area cities have no limit on campaign expenditures.

Council member Rick Gibbs, who said he raised $23,000 as an incumbent in the last election, said he doesn't believe that having no expenditure limit will create an unfair balance between candidates.

"In the last election, the number of $1,000 checks I got was relatively small," he said. "The number of $999 and under was relatively large. We're not trying to limit anybody’s ability to get elected. If you can raise $100,000 on less than $1,000 increments, more power to you. You’re not going to get elected if you don’t present a credible platform people believe in."

Council member Alan Long agreed.

"The $1,000 single cap does self govern," he said. "If you talk to 100 people who give you $1,000, so be it. You have that support from the community. There's no need for a volunteer expenditure form that has no teeth in it."

Mayor Harry Ramos cast the lone dissenting vote.

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