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City Council Delays Adding More "Sunshine" to Berkeley Elections

The council decided to wait for clarification on amendments to the Berkeley Election Reform Act, and possibly change the proposal.

The city council decided to delay voting on amendments to the Berkeley Election Reform Act, chapter 2.12 of the city's municipal code, after expressing concerns at Tuesday's meeting that new proposals are "over the top."

"I would like to delay it," said Mayor Tom Bates, who moved that the amendments be referred back to the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. "There are so many questionable items here, I'm not inclined to vote for it."

The amendments (PDF) would require:

  • Local committees that make independent expenditures of $1,000 or more within the last 30 days of an election to report their spending to the City Clerk's office within 24 hours and send a copy of the report to all committees involved in the race.
  • That reports be made by overnight mail, fax or delivered in person.
  • A late penalty of $10 per day for not disclosing applicable expenditures on time.
  • The names of parties that donate $2,500 or more to a committee to be listed in all campaign materials — including fliers, posters, billboards, advertisements, commercials and telephone calls — that will have at least 200 copies distributed.

 

The reform act amendments apply to independent committees that weigh in on elections but are not directly connected to measures or candidates. 

As an example in a interview after the meeting, Steve Wollmer, the chair of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission, said that large developers like Equity Residential were part of funding a committee on a recent measure regarding the future of downtown Berkeley. However, only the innocuous name of the Sierra Club was featured on its campaign materials.

The goal of the commission's amendments, Wollmer said, is to show who is really trying to influence the outcome of campaigns. "We want to make sure that the speech is identified with the actual speakers," he said.

But the amendments hit a few bumps in the road at Tuesday night's city council meeting, as members were confused by parts, worried they would apply to candidates as well as committees, and disagreed over the amount of information that should be distributed.

Bates called the $10 per day late penalty for not reporting funds "a joke."

"If you're going to have a fee, it should be substantial enough to be a deterrent so people aren't just going to walk away with that," he said.

"It can add up," Wollmer responded at the meeting, citing that similar fines have added up to $3,500 in the past.

Bates did not like the proposal that large donors must be listed on all campaign materials. "You have to report everyone who has given more than $2,500 on your lawn sign?" he said. "Give me a break."

Having to disclose independent expenditures to all involved committees was a controversial topic. "I think it should be disclosed to the clerk and posted, but I'm not sure I agree with having to send that information to everyone else," said council member Gordon Wozniak.

"I'm all in favor of people knowing who is paying for campaigns, but I find some of these things to be rather draconian in terms of the demands it puts on the campaigns," said Mayor Bates.

While most members of the council did not support moving forward with the amendments Tuesday evening, council member Kriss Worthington felt that at least one of the amendments should have been passed.

"That we would not be able to move any of these five intelligent proposals forward would be abysmal," said Worthington.

But the city council decided to send the amendments back to the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. Wollmer said after the meeting that the commission will likely hold a workshop on the amendments in late September, which it hopes city council members will attend.

He said his commission will probably make some changes to the amendments to appease the city council. However, "it is the people's initiative, not the council's initiative," he said.

Both the commission and the city council said they hope to pass amendments to the Berkeley Election Reform Act before the next election cycle.

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