A former Turlock mayor and two former City Council members are taking local campaign finance reform into their own hands with a petition to adopt a legislative policy that would provide limits on participation by members of the City Council on matters effecting large campaign contributors.
Former Mayor Brad Bates, along with former Council members Mary Jackson and Ron Hillberg, created the petition in an effort to "put an end to appearances of favoritism to campaign contributors that undermines the citizens' trust in our City Council and government in general," according to the Statement of Reasons on the petition.
The petition calls for a TIN-CUP (Time is Now, Clean up Politics) ordinance that 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.
A major campaign contributor, as defined in the proposed ordinance, is someone who has contributed $1,000 or more over the past 48 months to that member of the Council — or to that Council member's spouse, immediate family member or campaign committee controlled by the Council member. Contributions include money, as well as loans, property-in-kind and other things that have monetary value.
"The whole 'pay to play' got a foothold in Turlock. We need to stop it before it gets totally out of control," said Bates.
All three of the ordinance's authors said the City Council's decision to create a request for proposals process to operate a downtown farmers market — after having the non-profit Turlock Certified Farmers Market operate a successful market for six years in the downtown —and then the awarding of that contract to Peter Cipponeri and his for-profit Golden State Farmers Market Association, was a driving factor in the reason they created the petition.
The three see the farmers market process as a political favor to Cipponeri. While Cipponeri , through his company and personally, only gave Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth $900 in contributions — which falls under the major campaign contributor qualifications under this proposed ordinance — Cipponeri's father donated $1,500 and his father-in-law, Matt Swanson, contributed $12,000 to Soiseth and $10,300 to the four other council members.
"We depend on these councils, you don't just avoid conflict of interest, you need to avoid the perception of conflict of interest," said Bates.
Hillberg and Jackson also called into question the ethics of the City Council awarding a contract to Swanson-owned Ace Valet to provide valet parking services in downtown Turlock, using public parking spots for drop-off and pick-up and a public parking lot to park the vehicles.
"As a former Council member, it's offensive to me see the Council not opening their eyes to what's happening," said Hillberg.
The proposed ordinance calls for a statement of campaign contributions and expenditures to be filed with the City Clerk.
The proposed ordinance has the City Clerk responsible for administration and enforcement of the ordinance with penalties of $500 per day for failure to file a summary of contributions received and expenditures made as required and the authorization of the City Clerk to seek criminal action against a person for any violation of the provisions of the ordinance.
The petition comes as the Turlock City Council is scheduled to host a series of public workshops on campaign finance regulations over the next two weeks. To Bates, Jackson and Hillberg said, however, the public meetings are not the best way to address the issue.
"At least from my view, the Council seems to be burying (campaign finance)," said Hillberg. "The debate should be at the Council level."
Bates, Jackson and Hillberg will be collecting signatures for the petition at the Turlock Certified Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds and at other public events in town. Their goal is to get the approximately 4,500 signatures needed for the City Council to address the issue before the November election.