Passing on local campaign finance reform - Elk Grove adopts new state limits instead

Senator Jason Lewis Supports Campaign Finance Reform Legislation ...

At last night's meeting, the Elk Grove City Council decided not to pursue stricter campaign finance limits and instead will follow new guidelines that will become effective after the November election cycle. 

Instead, the city council said it would comply with new limits enacted by California Assembly 571. That legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, limited individual contributions to candidates to $4,700 per election cycle.

After hearing the staff report from city attorney Jonathan Hobbs, the city council heard two public comments. Both speakers were District 1 residents, with one making pointed references to their representative on the city council, Darren Suen. 

In his comments, Amar Shergill said the method of disclosure should be easier for review by the public and be searchable. 

"Anybody can log and see exactly who gets how much, and how often," Shergill said. "And you can see that Councilmember Suen has taken $300,000 over the past few cycles from real estate and developers and ask him, 'why are you taking that money.'"

Shergill also suggested that the top five contributors to a campaign should be listed on mailers, one of the favorite campaign tools in local elections. 

"The last election we had a racist ad against Mayor Ly and supporting Darren Suen that never would have seen the light of day if PG&E had to put their name on attack ads and racist ads," he added.

In her comments, Denessa Atiles said the timing of this and other agenda items were curious. Atiles said critical issues should be discussed when more people can participate. 

"I am really baffled and confused why in the middle of this pandemic our city council is taking up things like this," she said. "We should be able to look our councilmember in the eyes and have this debate in a public forum."

Since mid-March, city council meetings are being held via teleconference, and public participation has decreased. Atiles suggested the city council was intentionally adding items such as term limits and campaign finance reform when there was less opportunity for public participation.

Following public comment, Vice Mayor Steve Detrick suggested the city council should follow the new standards of Assembly Bill 571. In his remarks, Councilmember Darren Suen implied he agreed with Atiles remarks about having these conversations in a public forum, but suggested the recent change to by-district voting could change the fundraising needs of candidates.

"Given the council made a decision to go to by-district, I think reduces somewhat the need to fundraise as much," Suen said. "AB 571 did the works for us."

For the November elections, AB 571 will not be in effect. Once the law goes into effect on January 1, 2021, it will be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index. 

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.

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