Poway sticks with $100 campaign contribution limit

By Steve Dreyer

For the second time in three months, a split City Council has rejected a call to increase the maximum amount an individual may contribute to a candidate for municipal office.

Since 1981 the limit has been $100 per individual.

Councilwoman Merrilee Boyack, who during a Nov. 15 workshop session was the lone voice for an increase, on Tuesday night picked up the support of Councilman John Mullin. Boyack had suggested the limit be increased to $300. Mullin, noting that $100 in 1981 is the same as about $188 today, suggested a $200 cap.

Mayor Don Higginson, Deputy Mayor Jim Cunningham and Councilman Dave Grosch adamantly stuck to the $100 ceiling.

“This is not the time to liberalize what has been working,” said Cunningham. He noted the high amounts of money spent on municipal campaigns elsewhere in the county and of the impact of so-called “super-PACs” have had on the national election scene.

“The more you are allowed to raise, the more money you have to spend,” Cunningham said.

Higginson said keeping the Poway limit at $100 “levels the playing field.” It helps challengers and hurts incumbents, who would have an easier time obtaining larger donations since they are better known in the community, he said.

Grosch’s view was that “money doesn’t win elections, hard work does.”

The limit came up as councilmembers reviewed and approved a series of changes to the city’s campaign laws that they had recommended during the November workshop.

Among the changes:

• Unspent campaign contributions must either be donated to a charity or to the city’s general fund.

• The $50 fee charged to candidates interested in having a statement included in the voter information pamphlet will be raised to whatever the county determines to be the candidate’s fair share of overall printing costs. In past regular elections, that amount had been between $400 and $500, the cost of translating the statements into many languages (four in Poway’s case.) The first $50 of the fee will be paid by the city.

• The city will require a $200 fee of anyone filing a notice of intent to circulate a petition in the city. The fee will be refunded if enough qualified signatures are collected within a 12-month period.

• Criminal penalties will be reduced from a maximum fee of $10,000 (or three times the illegal contribution or expenditure reported, whichever is greater) to a maximum fine of $1,000.

• Civil penalties will be reduced from a maximum of $5,000 to $1,000.

A current city requirement that a campaign financing statement be filed on the Friday immediately preceding the election date will be dropped. State election law does not require this.

The city’s first set of campaign laws were adopted in 1981. Revisions have been made in 1987, 1991 and 1997.

   
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