Politics & Government

Higher limit on campaign contributions to be considered in SLO

The San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday night will consider changing the city’s election campaign regulations to allow larger financial contributions.

Individual contributions to candidates have long been capped at $200, but a six-member citizen committee appointed by the council in August is recommending that amount be increased to $300.

The committee was tasked with reviewing the city’s election campaign regulations for consistency with state and federal law. The last update of the regulations was done in January 2010.

Four of the six members — Ty Griffin, Allen Settle, Wilda Rosene and Jerri Carroll — support raising the cap. One member, Bob Shanbrom, was absent the day the committee made its final recommendation but had previously said that limits should remain at $200.

Committee member Andrea Devitt is the only committee member who voted to rescind contribution limits.

Devitt reiterated concerns raised by local attorney Stew Jenkins that the constitutionality of limiting individual contributions could change based on a ruling expected soon from the U.S. Supreme Court.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission challenges the right of government to regulate the amount that individuals may contribute to federal candidates and other political committees. It also challenges the aggregate amount an individual can contribute in a two-year period.

“Individual contribution limits has been challenged in the past,” said City Attorney Christine Dietrick. “I still believe that the city’s types of regulations are within the scope of legal regulation.”

San Luis Obispo’s campaign regulations were adopted in 1974 to pave the way for all citizens to have the opportunity to run for office without excessive campaign costs. At the time, the contribution limit was $100.

Citizen committees tried to raise the limit twice — in 1991 and 1994 — but were denied by the council.

In 2005, the limit was increased to its current amount of $200.

San Luis Obispo resident and past council candidate Kevin Rice would like the campaign limits to be rescinded because contributions from state committees cannot be regulated by the city — making it difficult for candidates to compete against those large donations.

The committee is also recommending that the city eliminate a requirement that candidates file a supplemental campaign statement showing all contributions of more than $50 but less than $100.

State law requires contributions of $100 or more be reported.

If the changes are approved by the City Council, future candidates would also not be required to close their campaign accounts and disperse remaining funds; instead, they could keep the accounts open for future campaigns.

The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 990 Palm St.