The City of Turlock has its first campaign finance ordinance following a split vote by the City Council on Tuesday — however, it's a voluntary regulation with no enforcement mandated.
The adopted ordinance, proposed by Mayor Gary Soiseth and Council member Bill DeHart, 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.
"The question's already been asked; what is the goal of an ordinance on campaign finance reform? The purpose is, unequivocally, an accountability to the voters...Why is it voluntary? Primarily because it relieves any legal exposure...it does in fact preserve constitutional rights. It's simple, clear, understandable, unambiguous," said DeHart during his presentation of the ordinance.
Council members Steven Nascimento and Matthew Jacob cast the dissenting votes on the ordinance.
Jacob requested that changes be made to Soiseth and DeHart's proposal to specifically address aggregated contributions from individuals and businesses an individual has controlling interest in and to eliminate the listing of the top 10 maximum donors on each Council agenda and instead post it on the City's website.
DeHart, who called for a vote on the proposal, would not entertain any changes to it.
The Council voted on four different campaign finance regulations on Tuesday that included Council member Steven Nascimento's original TIN CUP (Time is Now, Clean Up Politics) ordinance from 2014, two ordinances submitted by former mayor Brad Bates and former council members Ron Hillberg and Mary Jackson, one of which was supported by Nascimento.
All three of the ordinances voted down included mandated regulations. Nascimento's original TIN CUP ordinance and one of the proposals submitted by Bates, Hillberg and Jackson would have disqualified council members from voting on matters that would financially affect major campaign contributors.
The updated proposal by Bates, Hillberg, Jackson with input by Nascimento put a limit on campaign contributions of $1,000 per donor for a candidate for City Council and $2,000 for a candidate for Mayor. The ordinance also included aggregation of contributions by an individual and entities owned or controlled by that individual or share the majority of members of their board of directors.
"The basis we used to come up with this was the new district elections, to make it affordable for everybody to run," said Hillberg when presenting the ordinance. "Our goal is to be consistent with state and federal law... it's 15 times the limit for California Assembly and six times the limit for State Senate.
" A number of cities do in fact have contribution limits. This is a limit that is reasonable, not like $100 in Davis or even $500 like they do in Merced," he continued.
Nascimento said that he supported the amended option presented by the former Council members because "after discussion at public meetings...it felt like there was more interest in campaign contribution limits" rather than his original ordinance that disqualified council members from voting on items that financially affected large campaign contributors.
While Nascimento said that he didn't believe "you can legislate ethics," he could not support Soiseth and DeHart's proposal because it is voluntary and does not account for aggregation of donations.
"I would like to see the council take action in the right direction, [but this is] worse than doing nothing, it gives a false impression that we're doing something," said Nascimento.
Following the vote Tuesday night, the Council took a short recess at which time Soiseth said he and DeHart would be signing the voluntary campaign finance ordinance.