City debate over campaign cash

March 5, 2013 

— The debate has started among Modesto City Council members on whether they should tighten the provisions of the Tin Cup ordinance, which prevents council members from voting on matters affecting their major campaign donors.

Modesto resident and blogger Emerson Drake has been advocating lowering the threshold that triggers the ordinance from $3,000 in total contributions from one donor over 48 months to $1,000 for council members and $2,000 for the mayor.

At Monday’s Safety & Communities Committee meeting Drake said lowering the limits will help take the influence of money out of elections and that it takes less money to run for council since the city switched to district council elections in 2009.

But Councilman Dave Lopez countered Drake’s argument by saying district elections can be costly. Lopez said a campaign mailer for a district race can cost as much as $6,000.

“That’s a lot of $25 checks,” Lopez said, highlighting how much time and effort it takes to raise money from donors who give small amounts.

Lopez said it takes nerve and guts to ask someone to donate $3,000 to a council campaign. He said that’s the same nerve and guts a council member needs to have the fortitude to challenge the status quo and ask the tough questions.

Lopez favors keeping the Tin Cup requirements at $3,000 in total contributions from one donor over 48 months to a council member or the mayor. But he was outvoted at Monday’s committee meeting by Councilmen John Gunderson and Dave Geer, who supported sending the proposed Tin Cup changes to the full City Council for possible adoption.

Geer said he did not know how he would vote once the matter came before the council but he wanted a full, vigorous debate on the issue.

Modesto adopted the Tin Cup ordinance in 1987 and required council members and the mayor not to vote on matters affecting donors who had given them $1,000 over 48 months. In 2005, the council raised the threshold to $3,000.

Campaign contributions were not the only issue to stir debate Monday. During a Police Department presentation of the 2012 crime statistics, Geer talked about the need for Modesto schools to train and arm some of their teachers and administrators.

He said that was the only way to ensure student safety when the police, which have been hit hard by budget cuts, only have five officers assigned to the several dozen schools in the city. Police officials told Geer his suggestion was outside of their purview.

This is the second time in recent weeks that Geer, an Army veteran and retired federal police officer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has publicly called for the training and arming of some teachers and administrators.

Tin Cup report: Marsh

Tin Cup report: Lopez

Tin Cup report: Gunderson

Tin Cup report: Geer

Tin Cup report: Codgill

Tin Cup report: Burnside

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