Turlock City Council wrestles with campaign donor rule

jholland@modbee.comFebruary 12, 2014 

— City Council members plan to take a few weeks to consider a proposed ban on voting on matters that could benefit certain campaign donors.

Supporters said Tuesday night that the measure would help ensure honest government, but critics called it an unneeded addition to campaign finance rules.

The proposal, from Councilman Steven Nascimento, would bar members from voting on matters that could financially benefit donors of $2,000 or more over the previous 36 months. The agenda report said 48 months, but that was an error.

Nascimento said he did not see a specific problem in Turlock but believes such a protection would be helpful in the future.

The proposal implies that “our morals and ethics are in question,” Councilwoman Amy Bublak said. “If that’s the case, don’t elect the people.”

She also said the wording was vague, raising the question, for example, of whether precinct walking by a supporter should be counted among the “in-kind” donations to a campaign.

At Mayor John Lazar’s urging, City Attorney Phaedra Norton will meet with Bublak and Nascimento to discuss the details. A report is expected at the council’s Feb. 24 meeting, and the proposal could go to a vote March 11.

The ordinance drew opposition from Turlock Firefighters Local 2434. Its president, Mike Harcksen, said the union supports clean elections, but the $2,000 limit would hinder its ability to deal with city officials.

The Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley, based in Stockton, also disagreed with the idea. John Beckman, chief executive officer, said it runs afoul of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits on campaign finance can intrude on free-speech rights.

Critics noted that state law already requires listing of major donors. “The public gets to see it,” Beckman said. “The public gets to read it. It’s open.”

Lazar said the ordinance could be a useful addition to the campaign finance information that council members already have to submit.

“It is time-consuming,” he said, “but it is good government, open government.”

The proposal is roughly similar to a Modesto ordinance in place since 1987. It is known as Tin Cup, which stands for “Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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