As election season gets into high gear, the Turlock City Council made changes to its voluntary campaign contribution regulation. The newly adopted regulation eliminates the reporting of the amount of money contributed to a candidate and changes disclosure deadlines.
The Council voted 4-1 (with Council member Amy Bublak dissenting) on Tuesday to adopt the new resolution.
After much discussion and the consideration of four different resolutions, the City Council voted 3-2 in June 2016 to adopt the City’s first-ever campaign finance ordinance. The adopted ordinance, proposed by Mayor Gary Soiseth and Council member Bill DeHart, included a voluntary campaign contribution limit of $1,000 per donor per election cycle, disclosure of contributions of $1 or more, disclosure of the top 10 maximum donors to be placed on every Council agenda and a Pledge to Comply with the City's Code of Fair Campaign Practices.
Then Council member Steven Nascimento and current Vice Mayor Matthew Jacob cast the dissenting votes on the ordinance in 2016.
Since its adoption, questions have come up regarding the forms used to disclose contributions and the potential confusion between the form candidates are required to submit to the Fair Political Practices Committee and the City-provided disclosure form.
The Political Reform Act requires candidates and committees to file campaign statements by specified deadlines disclosing contributions received and expenditures made. For each $25 donation or more, the date received, amount of the contribution, and full name and street address, including zip code, of the contributor must be documented. In addition, the total amount received from the contributor over the course of the current calendar year must be recorded. Contributions of $100 or more, in addition to the information required for contributions of $25 or more as described above, the contributor’s occupation and employer must be recorded. If the contributor is self-employed, that fact also must be noted along with the name of his or her business.
On March 10, the Council appointed Mayor Soiseth and Council member Gil Esquer to a Campaign Disclosure Requirements and Campaign Statement Filing Ad Hoc Committee to address the concerns.
On Tuesday, Soiseth and Esquer presented a new resolution for consideration that:
· - Maintains the voluntary limitations on campaign contributions to $1,000 per person, per election cycle;
· - Clarifies the City of Turlock Pledge to Limit Campaign Contributions is voluntary;
· - Makes the additional requirements for disclosures and campaign statement filing voluntary;
· - Requires the voluntary disclosures of $1 or more to be done in a form provided by the City Clerk;
· - Only requires the full names of the contributors giving $1 or more be disclosed. No longer does the amount of the contribution need to be included; and
· - Makes deadlines for submitting the voluntary disclosure form the same as deadlines for the required Campaign Statements by the Political Reform Act.
“When we first formed the ad hoc to work on this, the main issue was clarity as far as voluntary versus mandatory or nonvoluntary. I think we worked on cleaning up the language as best we could without changing too much of the actual body. It’s pretty clear now that it is voluntary. Once you agree to do this, it lays out the procedures you need to follow. I think we did what we were asked to do,” said Esquer.
Sosieth said this updated resolution clarifies the process voluntarily disclosing campaign contributions.
“The intent is for us to make sure we’re disclosing the names of individuals who donate to us. It’s all about clarity. We’re not turning our City Clerk into a police officer that is going to make sure we’re in compliance. We’re going to provide this, if people do not want to adhere to the voluntary contribution list, they don’t have to. This is for us as a template, as a guideline to try and help the public know who donates to our campaigns,” he said.
Bublak, who is currently running for Mayor against Soiseth, voted in favor of the original campaign finance disclosure ordinance in 2016 but cast the dissenting vote for the updated resolution on Tuesday.
“I have to actually agree with former Council member Nascimento. He said it didn’t have teeth, I experienced it, I lived by it, I did exactly what I supposed to do — it doesn’t have any teeth. Who’s going to police it? Who cares? I actually think when I take the oath [for office] that an actual judge is administering to us about ethics, that says who you are. You’re saying, in front of everybody, I’m going to be ethical, I’m not going to be trying to hide things. This is all voluntary, it’s cumbersome, teethless and I just don’t see this as being any benefit,” said Bublak.
Vice Mayor Jacob was one of the original dissenting votes in 2016, but on Tuesday he was the one to forward the resolution for the updated voluntary campaign finance disclosure ordinance.
“I didn’t think it went far enough at the time, but my view is it’s better to do something and have that option available for potential candidates than just do nothing at all,” he said.