SAN LUIS OBISPO — Hundreds of people voiced their objections to a proposed $25,000 campaign donation cap to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Friday, Nov. 20.
Still, the board approved the cap, 3-1, with Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson dissenting. This is the first time SLO County has had a cap on campaign contributions. It applies only to County races, such as elections for supervisors, sheriff, and district attorney.
The ordinance will apply to campaign contributions from both individuals and organizations. Independent expenditure committees would be exempt due to a Supreme Court ruling.
During the nearly three-hour meeting, Gibson and many others who provided written and verbal public comment wanted the limits to be below the state’s current limit of $4,700 per contributor in an election. The California Fair Political Practices Commission can adjust this amount.
Gibson said they “received over 700 opinions on this matter” and only one person, who was not a resident of the County, spoke in favor of the cap.
“We’ve heard 700 to one. I have never seen public comment on, 14 years on this board, I have never seen public comment go 700 to one against us doing this. I think the will of the population of the County of San Luis Obispo County is clear.”
Objectors said the $25,000 cap opens the door to big-money politics.
“The proposed cap of $25,000 for direct contributions for candidates of public office is absurd,” said county resident Linda Reynolds. Nothing like being blatant and upfront and allowing politicians to be bought by a few special interests. This proposed large limit of $25,000 per donor is the perfect example of opening the door to pay to play for a few money donors who want to buy influence.”
According to Assembly Bill 571, if counties and cities do not have local campaign finance rules in place by Jan. 1, 2021, they default to the limits established for state office candidates.
Having local control was key to First District Supervisor John Peschong, who proposed the ordinance in October.
“I believe, and ultimately I do not want Sacramento and the Governor’s office and the Legislature to tell people in San Luis Obispo County what to do in this particular instance,” Peschong said.
Peschong said a number of counties set higher caps than SLO — Fresno County’s was $30,000, Tulare County’s was $40,000 and Madera County set no limits.
“There are counties that are doing it kind of going all over the board,” Peschong said. “We talked about $25,000. I saw this number compared to those other counties and I thought it fit well for us. The beauty of this ordinance is that it can be changed from time to time. We, as a board, can come back together and change it. If we don’t move this forward today and we accept the state limits, we can’t change it.”
People said Supervisor Peschong should not be voting on the ordinance. Peschong owns Meridian Pacific, a political consulting firm that has worked on local candidate campaigns.
Peschong said there was no conflict of interest because he has not worked for county candidates since he took office in 2017.
The vote also shifts campaign finance enforcement responsibility to the SLO County District Attorney’s Office, instead of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Enforcement would go to the FPPC when there were conflicts of interest.
“I think our District Attorney is a person with so much integrity who I have complete confidence in his ability to act in an unbiased way anytime he is called upon to serve,” said Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, adding that using the DA’s Office keeps the enforcement local and out of the hands of FPPC’s five-member panel in Sacramento.
The three supervisors who voted yes, all said campaign contributions were needed for incumbents and challengers to get their message out to voters. They wondered where the concern from the community was in prior years when there was not a cap.
“And now, all of a sudden, when we’ve never had a limit, and we are putting a limit on it when there never has been one before people are saying we are raising the limit,” said Fourth District Supervisor Lynn Compton. “No, we’re not; there has never been a limit. When we go to put a limit on it, then that becomes problematic.”
The next SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting is Dec. 8. For more information, visit slocounty.ca.gov.