News

Pleasanton council capping contribution amount for city election candidates

Members agree on voluntary donor limit but are split on campaign expenditure max

Following extensive discussion and public input about the role of money in local elections, Pleasanton City Council members unanimously agreed to set a voluntary $1,000 per individual contribution maximum for city office candidates but were split when it came to limits for campaign expenditures Tuesday evening.

Pleasanton is poised to be the second Tri-Valley city to adopt such an ordinance; the city of Dublin has a $500 limit per individual donor per election for a local candidate set in place since 2009.

Newly enacted state campaign finance legislation restricts an individual's donations to a candidate running for a county or city elected office at no more than $4,900, but local jurisdictions may adopt their own higher or lower contribution limits.

The definition of person also includes political action committees, which could make a donation to a candidate of up to $1,000, according to assistant city attorney Larissa Seto.

"But there's also a situation, if you have a political action committee that's independent of a candidate, then it can also make its own expenditures independently," Seto told the council.

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Seto explained that it would be permissible for someone to donate $1,000 to a candidate, then another $1,000 to a PAC that in turn donated $1,000 toward the same campaign, "as long as that PAC isn't being controlled by that same candidate."

Though united on voluntary contribution limit, the council voted 3-2 to adopt the first reading of the ordinance as amended that evening to reflect new voluntary spending limits of $24,000 for council and $30,000 for mayoral campaigns. Councilmembers Jack Balch and Kathy Narum cast the dissenting votes.

After Narum, Balch and several public commenters argued against the original proposed limits of $15,000 for a council member candidate and $25,000 for a mayoral candidate, Councilmember Valerie Arkin, who originally brought the matter to the council, suggested increasing the expenditure amounts.

During last year's general election, all City Council candidates pledged to abide by and did not exceed the city's voluntary campaign expenditure limit of $55,325. Established in 2008, that limit breaks down to $1 per registered Pleasanton voter, plus inflation.

Seto said, "As the ordinance in our current municipal code exists, it's for an election period," so expenditures such as prepaid advertising made during an off-year wouldn't count toward the expenditure limit.

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Narum asked about the limits that could be independently spent by an individual on a candidate or candidate's committee, to which Seto replied there's "not so much limits as reporting requirements."

"Not to pick on Councilmember Balch, but since he's not up for re-election until 2024 ... in the four-year period, he could only accept $1,000 from an individual as long as he's signing that voluntary pledge, is that correct?" Narum said, which Seto affirmed.

Mayor Karla Brown asked who enforces the voluntary pledges now, and Seto said they're not subject to enforcement.

"Voluntary expenditure limits do have some concerns that have been challenged in court before, and so when the council adopted that in 2008, there was a very specific interest in making sure that was voluntary and not subject to any fines or penalties, so that's what we're proposing here going forward," Seto said.

Though not enforced or monitored by the city, "I imagine that is something the court of public opinion might be tracking," Seto added.

During public comment, former city planning commissioner and 2016 council candidate Herb Ritter said he supported "taking big money, special interests out of elections" and the $1,000 per donor limit, but not "capping new candidates from raising funds to help get out their message."

"What I would encourage you to do is stop making more rules and start enforcing the ones you have or change them," Ritter said.

Ritter added, "I also think you could cap incumbents and not new candidates as an option. I think incumbents have a huge, huge advantage as history shows. I encourage you to follow the state law and not try to over-regulate local campaigns."

Bryan Gillette, who co-chaired the Yes on Measure M campaign and former councilmember Jerry Pentin's bid for mayor last year, said his experience showed him "how difficult it is to raise money and how expensive voter outreach really is."

"Mailers, lawn signs and advertisements are expensive, and with a growing community, outreach is vital," Gillette said. "The limits being proposed are so low as to only benefit those currently in office and stifle challengers."

"These arbitrary low limits will reduce transparency, as money will be funneled into political action committees and independent expenditures by individuals, making it harder to know who is behind the candidate," Gillette added. "When money is funneled through PACs, it becomes harder for me to know whose interest is being represented."

Brown said she didn't want "any of the five of us or any future council members to have a reputation that they bought a seat on this council," and that "when I ran last time, I said I'm not taking PAC money."

However, Narum noted the Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters PAC "did give some money there in 2020" to Brown's campaign, in the form of $1,000, "so let's be honest about that."

Arkin called campaign finance reform "a big issue countrywide, but even locally here in Pleasanton I would say it filters down to the local level."

"This was not meant to be about my campaign, but I was a newbie running for school board with $2,400, and I won and I came in second place, in first (place) was the incumbent," Arkin said. "I ran for City Council not being an incumbent and spent about $6,200, raised just a little more than that. I don't think you need to raise that kind of money to win a seat, and I'm an obvious example of that."

The second reading and final adoption of the ordinance are expected to take place at the next regular council meeting.

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Pleasanton council capping contribution amount for city election candidates

Members agree on voluntary donor limit but are split on campaign expenditure max

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Apr 21, 2021, 3:29 pm

Following extensive discussion and public input about the role of money in local elections, Pleasanton City Council members unanimously agreed to set a voluntary $1,000 per individual contribution maximum for city office candidates but were split when it came to limits for campaign expenditures Tuesday evening.

Pleasanton is poised to be the second Tri-Valley city to adopt such an ordinance; the city of Dublin has a $500 limit per individual donor per election for a local candidate set in place since 2009.

Newly enacted state campaign finance legislation restricts an individual's donations to a candidate running for a county or city elected office at no more than $4,900, but local jurisdictions may adopt their own higher or lower contribution limits.

The definition of person also includes political action committees, which could make a donation to a candidate of up to $1,000, according to assistant city attorney Larissa Seto.

"But there's also a situation, if you have a political action committee that's independent of a candidate, then it can also make its own expenditures independently," Seto told the council.

Seto explained that it would be permissible for someone to donate $1,000 to a candidate, then another $1,000 to a PAC that in turn donated $1,000 toward the same campaign, "as long as that PAC isn't being controlled by that same candidate."

Though united on voluntary contribution limit, the council voted 3-2 to adopt the first reading of the ordinance as amended that evening to reflect new voluntary spending limits of $24,000 for council and $30,000 for mayoral campaigns. Councilmembers Jack Balch and Kathy Narum cast the dissenting votes.

After Narum, Balch and several public commenters argued against the original proposed limits of $15,000 for a council member candidate and $25,000 for a mayoral candidate, Councilmember Valerie Arkin, who originally brought the matter to the council, suggested increasing the expenditure amounts.

During last year's general election, all City Council candidates pledged to abide by and did not exceed the city's voluntary campaign expenditure limit of $55,325. Established in 2008, that limit breaks down to $1 per registered Pleasanton voter, plus inflation.

Seto said, "As the ordinance in our current municipal code exists, it's for an election period," so expenditures such as prepaid advertising made during an off-year wouldn't count toward the expenditure limit.

Narum asked about the limits that could be independently spent by an individual on a candidate or candidate's committee, to which Seto replied there's "not so much limits as reporting requirements."

"Not to pick on Councilmember Balch, but since he's not up for re-election until 2024 ... in the four-year period, he could only accept $1,000 from an individual as long as he's signing that voluntary pledge, is that correct?" Narum said, which Seto affirmed.

Mayor Karla Brown asked who enforces the voluntary pledges now, and Seto said they're not subject to enforcement.

"Voluntary expenditure limits do have some concerns that have been challenged in court before, and so when the council adopted that in 2008, there was a very specific interest in making sure that was voluntary and not subject to any fines or penalties, so that's what we're proposing here going forward," Seto said.

Though not enforced or monitored by the city, "I imagine that is something the court of public opinion might be tracking," Seto added.

During public comment, former city planning commissioner and 2016 council candidate Herb Ritter said he supported "taking big money, special interests out of elections" and the $1,000 per donor limit, but not "capping new candidates from raising funds to help get out their message."

"What I would encourage you to do is stop making more rules and start enforcing the ones you have or change them," Ritter said.

Ritter added, "I also think you could cap incumbents and not new candidates as an option. I think incumbents have a huge, huge advantage as history shows. I encourage you to follow the state law and not try to over-regulate local campaigns."

Bryan Gillette, who co-chaired the Yes on Measure M campaign and former councilmember Jerry Pentin's bid for mayor last year, said his experience showed him "how difficult it is to raise money and how expensive voter outreach really is."

"Mailers, lawn signs and advertisements are expensive, and with a growing community, outreach is vital," Gillette said. "The limits being proposed are so low as to only benefit those currently in office and stifle challengers."

"These arbitrary low limits will reduce transparency, as money will be funneled into political action committees and independent expenditures by individuals, making it harder to know who is behind the candidate," Gillette added. "When money is funneled through PACs, it becomes harder for me to know whose interest is being represented."

Brown said she didn't want "any of the five of us or any future council members to have a reputation that they bought a seat on this council," and that "when I ran last time, I said I'm not taking PAC money."

However, Narum noted the Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters PAC "did give some money there in 2020" to Brown's campaign, in the form of $1,000, "so let's be honest about that."

Arkin called campaign finance reform "a big issue countrywide, but even locally here in Pleasanton I would say it filters down to the local level."

"This was not meant to be about my campaign, but I was a newbie running for school board with $2,400, and I won and I came in second place, in first (place) was the incumbent," Arkin said. "I ran for City Council not being an incumbent and spent about $6,200, raised just a little more than that. I don't think you need to raise that kind of money to win a seat, and I'm an obvious example of that."

The second reading and final adoption of the ordinance are expected to take place at the next regular council meeting.

Comments

Matt Sullivan
Registered user
Stoneridge
on Apr 22, 2021 at 12:48 pm
Matt Sullivan, Stoneridge
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 12:48 pm

This is a subject I know something about. While the proponents for limiting campaign spending on the Council can’t come right out and say it (or won’t), the issue in Pleasanton is that some candidates get huge campaign contributions from developers, local business interests, the Chamber of Commerce PAC, and other special interests. During one election campaign several years ago PG&E made an independent expenditure contribution on behalf of a candidate of $50,000. When I ran for Council in 2004, I raised and spent $8,000 all from grassroots contributions. In 2008 I raised $11,000. It’s very difficult for grassroots candidates to compete when your rival gets $50,000 in one contribution.

The Chamber PAC was formed many years ago with the purpose of soliciting and bundling campaign contributions and supporting candidates who will pledge their undying allegiance to its 2025 Vision Web Link which is essentially a parallel city General Plan that is all about economic development and never ending growth. It’s a vison of a business utopia that is not hindered by citizens, democracy, or local government interference (in fact, many in local government are fully supportive of it). This has been a very successful strategy for the Chamber as they have controlled City Council majorities going back almost 20 years. This finally ended in 2020 with the election of Brown and Arkin, with Testa being elected in 2018. However, the Chamber Machine will be after them in 2022 to “correct” the mistake made by the public.

to be continued ...


Matt Sullivan
Registered user
Stoneridge
on Apr 22, 2021 at 12:51 pm
Matt Sullivan, Stoneridge
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Hopefully, 2020 wasn’t an anomaly. But it has been very difficult for grassroots candidates to compete over the years against organized, big-money interests. I was on the Council when the first attempt at campaign finance reforms was adopted. It was far from perfect but at least it was an attempt to stop the egregious campaign spending that reigned at the time. The new proposal isn’t perfect either, and there are legal restrictions on what cities can do, but anything we can do to level the playing field and have Council people that support the common good versus the corporate good is a step in the right direction.


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 22, 2021 at 1:57 pm
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Apr 22, 2021 at 1:57 pm

I actually 100% agree with Matt S on this topic.

This should also go for Union contributions / endorsements of any particular candidate.


Matt Sullivan
Registered user
Stoneridge
on Apr 23, 2021 at 10:01 am
Matt Sullivan, Stoneridge
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 10:01 am

Parent – that’s great! We agree on something!

I have a little different view on union participation. Unions serve the purpose of representing working people who would have little or no power in society without them and provide a semblance of democracy in the workplace. Only a small percentage of non-government employees are represented by unions these days. The rest of us are subject to a capitalist dictatorship on the job with little recourse to abuse other than to just quit. Unions have played a very small role in Pleasanton politics over the years. The firefighter’s union usually endorses someone, but their campaign contributions are minimal. The police and city employee unions are much less active. They in no way offset the impact of developers and the Chamber PAC as described in my last post. Of course, unions do have tremendous influence over state government.

What’s worse in Pleasanton politics is the participation of national political parties in election campaigns. The Alameda County Democratic Party is the most notorious example. The Mayor and City Council are non-partisan offices. However, the Democrat’s will generally endorse at least one candidate, usually already a party insider, which comes with immense benefits – armies of people walking precincts dropping flyers, get out the vote (GOTV) phone banks, and the candidate endorsement included in slate mailers sent to every house of registered democrats in town. This all comes free to the candidate. This is usually a double-whammy because many of these Democrats have also sold out to the Chamber PAC and are reaping thousands of dollars campaign contributions from developers and business as well. And the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the people (it was, until Bill Clinton came along).


Bryan Gillette
Registered user
Del Prado
on Apr 24, 2021 at 7:33 am
Bryan Gillette, Del Prado
Registered user
on Apr 24, 2021 at 7:33 am

Matt - Just to clarify something in your above note and provide some context. The Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Local 1974 Political Action Fund did contribute $1,000 to Karla Brown's campaign so I am not sure I would call this a 'minimal' contribution. Of all the contributions provided to either of the two major mayor contenders, very few were $1,000 or above.

In the most recent Council Meeting, Ms. Brown said, “…when I ran last time I said I’m not taking PAC money, I talked to PACs and I said “I will not take your money.” I was surprised to hear her say this as she did directly take PAC money.

The Police Officers Association does NOT have a PAC. so they don't make these types of contributions.


Karla Brown
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 30, 2021 at 11:24 am
Karla Brown, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 11:24 am

Brian, normally I do not comment on the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Forum, but your statements about me above, are not accurate and not true, which is the reason I am making an exception. While I agree the article is not clear, I am happy to offer the public some background information.

A Candidate has the option to accept funds directly from a Political Action Committee (PAC) like the BayEast Association of Realtors PAC, or the Lincoln Club PAC, which I have stated I will NOT do.

The other alternative is for a PAC to spend their OWN funds DIRECTLY in support of the candidate through an "Independent Expenditure" such as a postcard. Independent Expenditures are made without the involvement of the candidate, and often without their knowledge or approval. Independent Expenditures are not run through a candidate's campaign funds and would not show as a contribution. Another example is the large ads paid for by the Chamber of Commerce's PAC in support of candidates for local office. The candidate you supported for example, did not receive funds for these ads and he did not approve or pay for the ads. They were facilitated Independently.

As I said in the City Council meeting, my campaign did NOT receive any funds from a PAC, a builder or a developer.

I continue to be very proud of the support I received from the Livermore Pleasanton Firefighters Local 1974. This PAC did not "contribute" funds directly to my campaign as you claimed; instead, they endorsed me for office and spent their own money on a postcard in support of my election for Mayor of Pleasanton 2020. Call me or email if you would like to talk further because I know accuracy is important to us both.


Michael Austin
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 30, 2021 at 11:49 am
Michael Austin , Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 11:49 am

Karla,

Thank you for responding, cleaning up the garbage!


Fact Checker
Registered user
Downtown
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:06 pm
Fact Checker, Downtown
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:06 pm

The Livermore Pleasanton Firefighters PAC filed official campaign reports stating that they gave Karla Brown for Mayor a direct monetary contribution of $1000 AND independent expenditure support in the form of an ad valued at $473 and a mailer valued at $2992.73. Look up the campaign reports for yourself.


Fact Checker
Registered user
Downtown
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:18 pm
Fact Checker, Downtown
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:18 pm

Valerie Arkin applied for and received the Alameda County Democratic Party endorsement in 2020. She is also a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.


Michael Austin
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:47 pm
Michael Austin , Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 8:47 pm

Valarie was taking Bart to Livermore at that time.

"Being completely uninformed is precisely how most liberals stay liberal"...Ann Coulter.


Karla Brown
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on May 1, 2021 at 9:50 am
Karla Brown, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 9:50 am

When I make a mistake, I will admit it, and I made a mistake. To Brian Gillette, you are right, upon receiving the endorsement of Firefighter local 1974, I received both an independent expenditure for postcards in support of my candidacy, plus a financial donation.

Now that I have had time to review the documents in detail, I want to make this correction and apologize for my misstatement.

On 30,000 door hangers I made the following pledge which did not comment on PAC funds, "CLEAN MONEY PLEDGE" "The only experienced candidate not accepting campaign donations from builders and developers that aim to buy influence."

I will also make this disclosure at the next city council meeting.


MsVic
Registered user
Mission Park
on May 1, 2021 at 11:09 am
MsVic, Mission Park
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 11:09 am

This is what is wrong with politicians. You do something you claim you won’t or didn’t do and then when caught red handed you apologize. Nope nope nope - just as bad as all politicians saying one thing and doing something else Ms. Mayor.


skynet
Registered user
Mission Park
on May 1, 2021 at 1:23 pm
skynet, Mission Park
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 1:23 pm

So donations from local businesses (ie developers) are bad. Even though developers are regulated by local/state/federal requirements, along with our planning staff, planning commission and city council. But accepting donations from public unions to help get elected is good. Even when those same public unions will be on the other side of the table from you in contract negotiations.


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on May 3, 2021 at 8:06 am
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 8:06 am

Public unions are the worst! And in particular here, the whole union structure make zero sense.

We all agree with the initial formation of unions - no reasonable person (IMO) would say their origin was not necessary.

Now fast forward to today where local, regional, state, and federal regulations, governing bodies, codes, laws, etc all exist and you've eliminated 90% of the reason unions were needed. That leaves the remaining 10% which are basically glorified HR/benefits 3rd party negotiators that take a cut from the same people they supposedly empower- and actually diminish their negotiating power by having to cover 100% of their population which over 50% suck - which inhibits the other 50% ability to get what they actually deserve. What's more asinine about this is that for that remaining 10% benefit, government can establish those same minimums eliminating the union "benefit" all together. Public unions in politics also create an obvious conflict of interest. Not to mention if Tax payers are funding public employees public employee unions should definitely not be able to hold any "close door" sessions. Completely corrupt in my opinion, at a minimum deceitful and lacking transparency.

Trade unions I have a harder time making that argument, here, I've seen these unions really enforce craftsmanship and skilled training vs the public unions "take this online learning class" and if you've been here for 10yrs then your safe for life. If a union actually provides a employee / employer benefit by having some skin in the game by investing in the employee to make them more valuable and competitive to the employer I can see value...otherwise...NUMMI.

And without question we saw the pendulum swing too far this past year with the teacher's union. When CDC, drs, pandemic committees, etc are all advocating and presenting data for full time return to school/work safely and one union is able to hold the entire Ca economy hostage for their own demands we have a problem.


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