Contribution limit measure draws criticism

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Pasadena Star News

A City Council committee is recommending plans be shelved for a March ballot initiative that would set campaign contribution limits for Pasadena officials.

The council was considering the initiative as a way to sink the “Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000,” another campaign finance measure that Pasadena residents will vote on March 6.

The Taxpayer Protection Amendment would ban elected and appointed city officials from accepting gifts, jobs or campaign contributions from people to whom they have already voted to award benefits. It’s sponsored by the Oaks Project, a nonpartisan political group co-founded by Ralph Nader.

Council members say the measure is badly written and ineffective, mostly because it only restricts gifts and contributions under very limited circumstances.

Currently, there are no employment restrictions or campaign contribution limits for local representatives, although the state does regulate gifts.

Council members also say the Oaks Project initiative probably will be ruled unconstitutional in court.

They’re considering writing their own measure to run on the same ballot. If the council measure gets more votes than the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, it nullifies it even if both measures pass.

But a council committee including Chris Holden, Paul Little and Steve Madison concluded after discussing the idea Thursday that it’s too late to craft a countermeasure.

“I guess the real question is, if we are inclined to look at some kind of contribution limits, is this the right environment to do it in?” Holden asked.

The council has until Friday to put a measure on the March ballot, according to City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris.

If the Oaks initiative were to pass in March, Holden added, it may very well be invalidated by the courts anyway.

Paul Herzog, director of the Oaks Project, said he was pleased council members appeared willing to leave the Oaks initiative alone on the ballot. He believes a countermeasure simply would be an attempt to trick residents into voting against both measures.

City officials’ claim the measure would be unconstitutional, he said, “is a mischaracterization, and really a smear tactic.”

If the council does decide to push its own initiative, it could use an already-written draft of a campaign contribution limits ordinance it considered in 1998.

That proposal limited individual contributions in council campaigns to $250, and in mayoral campaigns to $1,000.

Madison said he thought it was imprudent to write a countermeasure “on the fly,” and disagrees with the $250 limit for council races included in the city’s proposal.

“In my campaign, and in virtually every council campaign in the city, candidates got more than $250 from residents in the city,” said Madison, who was elected to the District 6 seat in 1999. “That would tell me our residents, some of them, would want to participate more significantly.” Madison who spent nearly $70,000 on his election raised much of his money from attorneys, the majority of whom lived outside Pasadena.

Holden, when he ran for mayor in 1998-99, spent more than $278,000, raising much of his money from employee unions and firms that have done business with City Hall.

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