RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Aug. 4 voted in favor of advancing a proposal to cap monetary contributions to campaigns involving local candidates in Riverside County.
Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington asked and received the entire board’s support to implement monetary limits on campaigns for county candidates, and as part of the 5-0 vote, the Office of County Counsel and other agencies were directed to begin drafting the measure, with the goal of having it available for scrutiny by December.
“The issue is complex,” said Jeffries, whose staff did the bulk of the groundwork in formulating the proposal. “We have to ask, ‘Are we on the right path with this? Will it work?’ There are items we need to look at before the final draft comes back to us.”
The proposal was hatched after Assembly Bill 571 took effect in January. Under the law, counties and cities that do not have campaign contribution limits on their books by Jan. 1, 2021, will be required to operate under the default standards set by the state.
Under the state benchmark, the maximum individual contribution for a local candidate, such as one running for county sheriff or the Board of Supervisors, would be $4,700 — the same individual limit that currently applies to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.
The cap does not have any bearing on political action committees, unions, corporations or other large donors making “independent” contributions, as defined under the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v FEC, which was decided in 2010 based on free speech grounds.
“Riverside County is currently one of over 40 counties in California that has no campaign contribution limits, but will be subject to the state rules if the board does not pass an ordinance before January 1,” according to a statement posted to the board’s agenda. “The new state law makes it clear that adopting an ordinance that simply continues the policy of no limits is not acceptable.”
The supervisors noted that in recent campaigns, several candidates for local offices received individual contributions ranging from $200,000 to $1 million, raising the specter of improper influence.
Jeffries and Washington acknowledged that defaulting to the state standard of a blanket $4,700 cap on individual donations would impair the ability of candidates with limited funds to raise sufficient capital while seeking to challenge a wealthier contender.
Their proposal recommends a cap of $20,000 per individual contribution, per election cycle.
“But this ordinance would also establish that if a candidate either contributes more than $20,000 to their own campaign, or is the beneficiary of an independent expenditure campaign in excess of $20,000, that other candidates in that race would be exempted from the campaign contribution limits for that election cycle as well,” according to the proposal. “This would prevent a candidate from being put at a competitive disadvantage by their opponent’s access to deep pockets that fall outside the legal jurisdiction of the ordinance.”
According to Jeffries, election cycles draw distinctions between primary and general elections, which likely would be treated separately, permitting the individual contribution limits to carry over into both.
Supervisor Karen Spiegel wondered whether candidates who make loans to themselves to cover campaign expenditures would be limited by the proposed new caps, and Jeffries did not have an immediate answer, acknowledging that additional research will be required by county attorneys.
Under AB 571, the only time all contribution limits would be waived is when an incumbent is facing a recall challenge and seeking contributions to wage a battle against it.