The Turlock City Council will consider a number of campaign finance ordinances on Tuesday — including one proposed by Mayor Gary Soiseth and Councilman Bill DeHart.
Soiseth and DeHart's proposed ordinance would establish voluntary campaign contribution limits, voluntary contribution disclosures and a voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices.
"While we found some merit within the other proposals, we also found them to be inconsistent, redundant, or not containing the clarity and strength needed for this very important issue. Our proposal simplifies the requirements for donors and—if adopted—will become one of the most straight-forward and stringent campaign finance proposals ever adopted by a California city," states Soiseth and DeHart in a letter submitted with their proposal.
Soiseth and DeHart's proposal includes 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, which includes pledges of running campaigns on the issues and not using defamatory attacks on fellow candidates.
DeHart said he and the Mayor are proposing voluntary contribution limits as opposed to mandated limits in order to "remove legal exposure" and a possible legal challenge from future candidates. He said if a candidate wishes not to abide by the voluntary limits and disclosures, then the "ultimate arbiter in that situation is the ballot box."
The Council will also have the option to take action on the campaign finance ordinance Council member Steven Nascimento first proposed in 2014, a campaign reform petition that was submitted by former Mayor Brad Bates and former Council members Ron Hillberg and Mary Jackson on June 8 and a campaign finance ordinance submitted by Bates, Hillberg, Jackson and Nascimento on June 22 and another on June 23.
Nascimento's 2014 proposed ordinance requires a member of the Council to recuse themselves from a vote that would financially benefit a major campaign contributor, which is defined as someone who donated $2,000 or more to the Council member's campaign over the past 36 months.
Bates, Hillberg and Jackson's June 8 petition would prohibit a member of the City Council from participating in a vote on a matter that would have a material financial effect on a major campaign contributor — someone who donated $1,000 or more over the past 48 months.
The June 22 proposal includes contribution limits of $1,000 for City Council candidates and $2,000 Mayoral candidates.
While the City Council recently held a series of four campaign finance workshops, one in each electoral district, none of the proposed ordinances were discussed.
Bates, who attended three of the four workshops, said that he was "incredulous" that the Mayor and Councilman DeHart did not discuss their proposal.
"(...) why was this completely new approach to campaign finance reform not brought up at any of the four special in district meetings? At these meetings, the public was not asked for their input. It was primarily a repeated PowerPoint presentation by the City Attorney on what was, and more importantly, what was not legal, in her opinion. Public input was limited to 'Are there any questions?'"
Bates is also skeptical of Soiseth and DeHart's voluntary contribution limits and disclosure proposal.
"(...) I personally do not believe this is the community standard for campaign finance reform that our citizens want, and they should have ample opportunity to understand what, and also why, this resolution is being presented as a solution," wrote Bates in an email.
The Council will consider the campaign finance proposals during their regular meeting set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.