Editorial: Set local campaign limits

Published on

The Bakersfield Californian

The dollars have been counted and the totals are mind-boggling. Incumbent 4th District Supervisor Ken Peterson spent nearly $500,000 to get re-elected, outspending his opponent, Cathy Palla, 4 to 1.

It was a record, with the money pouring in from developers, unions, special interests and those doing business with the county a huge chunk coming from an individual whose business holds a county garbage hauling franchise and who has a controversial project pending county approval.

But the Peterson race wasn’t the only local race to attract increasing amounts of campaign contributions.

Harvey Hall raised $88,000 to win the Bakersfield mayor’s post. And the seven candidates in the three Bakersfield City Council races spent nearly a combined $178,000 on their campaigns.

Were all those individuals and all those special interest groups just interested in “good government” when they doled out the cash to candidates? Or did they believe they were buying something either increased access to elected officials or favorable treatment when business deals are considered, land-use decisions are made or public policy is set?

Whether in perception or reality, the connection is being made between skyrocketing seemingly uncontrolled campaign contributions and the behavior of elected officials. And public dismay over this connection is occurring on the local, state and federal levels.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., once again is rattling Congress’ cage demanding on Americans’ behalf campaign financing reform. He has been rebuffed in the past by contribution addicts in both political parties. Perhaps this session he and voters will see some light at the end of the federal tunnel.

But will that light ever be seen at the local level? Or will we all grow more and more accepting of the “money talks” system of government epitomized by the obscene cash flow into the Peterson race?

Don’t look to our elected leaders for an answer. The system works just fine for them, thank you. But matters could be taken out of their hands.

In the wake of the November election, a local group rooted in the League of Women Voters has started researching local campaign reform measures that would impose limits on donations.

Efforts now under way by the Oaks Project, a statewide, grassroots reform movement, bears watching, as well.

Last November, Oaks Project-backed initiatives were placed on ballots in San Francisco, Santa Monica and Vista. They all passed. However, the Vista vote is being challenged in court. Similar measures are on the ballot in special elections next month in Pasadena and Claremont. (See the Internet site: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/citizen/)

The Claremont measure is typical: The ordinance prohibits a city official who has participated in approving a contract or any other “public benefit,” such as a franchise valued at more than $50,000 or a land-use entitlement valued at more than $25,000, among others, from receiving a “personal or campaign advantage” from the beneficiaries of the public benefit granted.

The prohibition extends for up to one year after the public official leaves office or five years after the vote. Violations of the ban can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or with a hefty civil penalty.

While politicians may call these and other campaign contribution restrictions draconian, the rest of us call them long overdue.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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