Months after the issue was debated at City Hall, Santa Monica’s council members finally came to terms on raising limits on campaign contributions at its Tuesday night meeting at council chambers. However, council members only nodded the increase of campaign contributions by $75 instead of the $150 increase originally recommended by staff.
Originally discussed by current council members in March, the new campaign contribution will be raised from $250 – established in 1992 – to $325. City staff proposed the campaign contribution limit be raised to $400 as an adjustment for inflation.
Accordingly, no individual or business may be allowed to contribute more than $325 to future candidates for city council.
A few members of the public voiced their displeasure with the increased campaign contribution limit.
Resident Zina Josephs said more than 800 campaign donors contributed last election in 2010 under the previous limit of $250, of which only about 250 of these contributors were from Santa Monica residents.
In addition to the disparity between cited contributions from outside the city versus within, opponents worried non-Santa Monica residents would not be properly restricted from possibly “influencing” council candidates.
Similarly, it was discussed whether Santa Monica residents would face more contributing restrictions than their non-resident counterparts.
“The public perception remains the same today as it was in 2008 (that council candidates could be improperly influenced by campaign contributions),” resident Julie Dad said. “Please consider carefully before raising limits.”
On the dais, council members discussed the increasing election costs, such as the steady rises in postage for mailings, and the effect of the new contribution limit on the $14,000 in benefits local candidates receive for televised statements and campaigning.
With respect to increased costs and postage, it is estimated each candidate mailer campaign costs between $12,000 and $13,000.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis stressed she was only able to distribute three mailer campaigns due to the high costs of postage and other inflationary issues.
Council member Bobby Shriver pointed out $250 was worth far more in 1992 than in 2011. Accordingly, by increasing the contribution limits, Shriver argued Santa Monica voters would be able to have a strong voice compared to independent expenditure committees, who often are able to direct more funds toward candidates than individuals.
Ultimately, it was these reasons that council members voted to increase the contribution limit to $325, which was halfway between the previous amount of $250 and the proposed $400 figure.
In addition to campaign contribution limits, council members also contemplated assessing a $200 filing fee to help deflect at least some the $14,000 in benefits and services. The fee would complement the requirement to collect 100 signatures to earn a slot on the ballot.
The fee could be waived should a potential candidate collect 200 signatures.
At council’s March 22 meeting, City Hall discussed “the possibility of charging certain election fees” and proceeded to “explore requiring a small, multiple-donation qualifying threshold of approximately $200 for a candidate to access the estimated $14,000 in free taxpayer support per candidate that the City spends during each election season.”
Staff members were then directed to consider whether “more signatures in lieu of paying the qualifying donation fee” was acceptable. They reported back to council members “that although the implementation of a multiple donation qualifying threshold is possible, there are some issues for discussion.”
Based on the direction, staff members returned to council chambers on Nov. 8 with a proposed ordinance “increasing the contribution limit to $400 and adding an indexed adjustment.”
Council member Pam O’Connor was not present at the Nov. 8 meeting.