Speak out now on Modesto's campaign donation ordinance

April 23, 2013 

Modesto's campaign donation ordinance, known as TIN CUP or Time Is Now to Clean Up Politics, is coming in front of the Modesto City Council and citizens need to speak out. We have a chance to level the playing field between residents and special interest groups with deep pockets.

The ordinance was originally adopted in 1986 and amended in 2005 at the request of Rob Ellett of the Chamber of Commerce, who wanted to do away with the ordinance altogether.

The code prohibits council members from exerting any influence (voting) on a city decision in which they have reason to know they have a financial interest. The ordinance stated in 1986 that a council member has a prescribed financial interest if the decision will have a material effect on a major campaign contributor or someone who donated more than $1,000 during the preceding 48 months.

The original ordinance also didn't allow donations during the last week before the election.

The changes adopted in 2005 set the limit at $3,000 and did away with the "no donations clause" during the last week of campaigning.

The proposed change limits a council race to $1,000 and the mayoral race to $2,000.

An examination of donation records called 460s show, for example, Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. raised over $37,000 for his 2011 race while not taking in any donations of more than $1,000.

Councilman Joe Muratore took only two donations of over $1,000 while raising $23,000, while Councilman Dave Geer raised $11,000 while taking in only three donations of over $1,000 and Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside accepted only four while raising $23,000. So a substantial amount of money can be raised while keeping under $1,000 per donor.

An additional change that needs to be made but hasn't yet been broached is a notification limit (to the Modesto city clerk, to be published immediately) of 48 hours for $1,000 independent expenditures by political action committees called PACs.

The limit should come into play after the mail ballots have been sent to voters. An example of this occurred just last year: Councilman Dave Lopez had maxed out the amount the Modesto firefighters union could donate ($2,962) to his campaign early and then he received an independent expenditure from it of over $2,000 in June. In addition, there was a $6,000 expenditure for two mailers during the last two weeks of the election, after the ballots had been mailed.

These suggested changes do not limit the amounts anyone can donate to candidates. They only either stop an elected official from voting in support of a donor if limits are exceeded, or, as in the case of "late expenditures," help notify the public when someone from outside the campaign is trying to influence the voters.

Hopefully then The Modesto Bee and other media will enlighten the public as to what is going on.

We need to level the playing field when it comes to our elections. A $3,000 limit allows too much influence to be applied by deep-pocketed special interest groups of any kind.

Please make your opinion known by emailing or calling your council representative.

Drake, a Modesto resident, proposed the changes to the TIN CUP ordinance. It is scheduled to be considered by the Modesto City Council on May 14.

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