After months of pushing for campaign contribution reform at the city level, Turlock City Council member Steven Nascimento withdrew the watered-down version of his ordinance presented before the Council on Tuesday, saying that it would no longer accomplish his original goal.
Following the Feb. 11 meeting where the Council opted to postpone the ordinance in response to public opposition, Council members Amy Bublak and Nascimento began reviewing the proposed policy changes, working together to negotiate some of the original provisions that Bublak and many Turlock citizens showed contempt over.
In its original form, Nascimento’s ordinance would have changed city campaign contribution laws so that a portion of a contribution of $2,000 or more to a committee that is not controlled by a candidate for the City Council would be deemed as a direct contribution to the candidate. Due to that portion then being considered a direct contribution, that candidate, if elected, could not make or influence decisions that would directly benefit the contributor, as the council member would be noted as having a financial interest in the matter. Additionally, council members would have been prohibited from using their position of power to influence a decision that would have a material effect on one of their major campaign contributors
After negotiations between Bublak and Nascimento, however, the ordinance no longer included such provisions. Instead of prohibiting council members from making or influencing decisions in which they have a financial interest in, the amended ordinance merely included provisions on campaign contribution reporting obligations – a practice already required by State law and the Fair Political Practices Commission.
“We’re already required to do the necessary reporting with the 460 forms, and so I’m concerned that we’re just adding more bureaucracy to the process,” said Councilmember Forrest White, who had initially supported Nascimento’s original ordinance. “I’d rather just stick to what we have, because I think we’re just asking for problems. This doesn’t do what the original ordinance proposed.”
Agreeing with White, Nascimento said that while the new ordinance was “greatly different” than what he initially proposed due to an extensive negotiation process with Bublak, he still believed the new provisions – such as reporting campaign contributions to the City Clerk to be posted to the city website – would encourage Council transparency.
“I agree that adding some of these processes are a bit onerous, but the intent is to make campaign contributions easily accessible online for Turlock citizens to see,” said Nascimento.
Under the ordinance, council members would have been required to provide a written notice to the City Clerk when they have a financial interest in an issue, due to campaign contributions, on the council’s agenda at least five days prior to the council meeting at which the matter is to be heard.
“I see the intent, but I’m still troubled with a couple of things,” said Councilmember Bill DeHart. “The reality is that we already have those safeguards that were put in place specifically to ensure transparency…We’ve got the trust of the public, so to go beyond FPPC reporting is a major concern to me.”
While Nascimento agreed with DeHart that the council has been placed with a level of trust by the public, having additional campaign contribution reporting obligations would allow the public to verify that trust.
“This is about trust, and being able to verify that trust,” said Nascimento. “It’s just another means to help keep us held accountable.”
Ultimately recognizing that the ordinance no longer resembled his initial proposal but instead made the reporting process more “tedious,” Nascimento offered to withdraw the ordinance while requesting city staff to place campaign contribution reports on the city website for public viewing. City Attorney Phaedra Norton confirmed that the council would not need to take action on Nascimento’s request, while City Clerk Kellie Weaver reported that staff was already working on making such records easily accessible online.
Following the meeting, Nascimento said that he would be bringing his original ordinance back to the council for consideration in the future, as he has received a multitude of support from community members who are encouraging his efforts to address campaign contribution reform at the city level.
“This isn’t a solution, but a first step and I look forward to having further discussions on this matter,” said Nascimento. “I’m still open to making amendments, but also feel that there is a lot of support within the community for an ordinance that more closely resembles the original. There just doesn’t seem to be the needed support on the council currently to pass the ordinance in its original form, or something more similar to it. But I do plan to bring this issue forward again in the future.”