The City Council’s attempt earlier this year to limit campaign contributions to council candidates seems to be working, last Thursday’s campaign finance deadline shows. But the limits might also be increasing the spending of outside groups on the election.
Under the ordinance passed this summer, candidates must not accept more than $40,000 in campaign contributions to be eligible for up to $25,000 in public funds from the city.
So far, none of the candidates have accepted more than the $40,000 limit. During the late October filings from the 2010 election, all three Mayoral candidates — Gayle McLaughlin, Nat Bates and John Ziesenhenne — and council candidates Ludmyrna “Myrna” Lopez and Virginia Finlay had raised more than $40,000, not including public funds, for their campaigns.
But direct contributions are not the only way of helping a candidate.
“The intuitive impulse is to limit campaign money,” Vice Mayor Jim Rogers said. “Unfortunately it is more complex than that.”
Rogers, who was one of three councilmembers to vote against the ordinance in July, says that the current situation forces people to choose “the lesser of two evils.”
Moving Forward, a Chevron-backed campaign committee, has spent $330,000 in support of City Council candidates Nat Bates, Gary Bell and Bea Roberson. Moving Forward has also spent more than $180,000 opposing candidates Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez.
The committee’s spokesperson Alex Doniach said that Moving Forward is using the money to “disseminate factual information” about the City Council candidates.
Last Wednesday, Chevron gave Moving Forward $391,374, adding to the $1.2 million that the corporation gave to the campaign committee in early August.
This amount of money, given by outside interest groups, overshadows the amount of money that candidates are limited to raising to remain eligible for the public funding from the city. To become a “qualified candidate” for the matching funds, the candidate must submit a request to the City Clerk and must be running opposed by another candidate.
Once a candidate receives $10,000 in total contributions, he or she is then eligible to receive $5,000. For every additional $5,000 that a candidate discloses in campaign filings, he or she will receive an additional $5,000 from the city up to the $25,000 limit.
So far, Councilmember Nat Bates and candidate Gary Bell have received the maximum amount from the city. Marilyn Langlois has received $20,000 and Bea Roberson has received $15,000.
Candidates Mark Wassberg and Anthony Green still have not filed a campaign statement with the city.
Councilmember Tom Butt, who voted in favor of the ordinance in July, said he would still support it today.
“Do you forgo the possibility to improve things even if it is not perfect?” Butt said. “I think it does help level the playing field but you can’t control the independent PACs.”