For the first time in Morgan Hill’s history, candidates for local political office are subject to limits on how much money their individual contributors can give to their election campaigns. But city council members want to convene on the issue in the near future to consider imposing even tighter limits than those approved at a recent meeting.
In a 3-2 vote at the Nov. 18 meeting, the council agreed to set campaign contribution limits in line with those set in Assembly Bill 571, which takes effect statewide Jan. 1.
Specifically, the bill establishes a default campaign contribution limit of $4,700 per calendar year from any individual, business or political action committee. The state bill also sets a limit on personal loans from a candidate to his or her campaign at $100,000—an amount that some local council members think is exorbitantly high for a city like Morgan Hill.
City staff had recommended that the council adopt the default limits established in AB571. The council could have set its own campaign contribution limits either higher or lower than the statewide default, but such an action would require city officials to establish and pay for some way to enforce the law.
Under AB 571, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has expanded administration and enforcement authority regarding the default limits, says a city staff report. Violations of the contribution limits are punishable as a misdemeanor.
Council members voting against the AB 571 default contribution limits on Nov. 18 were Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Martinez Beltran and Larry Carr. Both wanted to look deeper into the possibility of setting the limits lower than allowed in the state bill.
Martinez Beltran suggested that an individual contribution limit of $4,700 was high for a city the size of Morgan Hill, especially considering that candidates for much larger jurisdictions would be subject to the same limit. She added that a personal loan of $100,000 from a candidate to their own campaign “seems excessive.”
Carr agreed that the personal loan limit established in AB 571 was high, and would effectively allow a deep-pocketed candidate to “come in and buy an election.” He made a motion to abide by the provisions of AB 571 except for the personal loan limit, which he proposed reducing to $4,700 for candidates for City of Morgan Hill offices.
But that motion was scrapped for a lack of a second.
Multiple council members noted that the contribution limits set in AB 571 are much higher than the campaign fundraising and spending activities typically seen in Morgan Hill elections.
The majority of council members who supported the staff recommendation supported the idea of revisiting the issue after Jan. 1, when AB 571 takes effect. If the council had not acted on the item, the limits of AB 571 would have applied to Morgan Hill by default as of Jan. 1, according to city staff.
“The whole thing for me is the equity in this,” Matinez Beltran said. “I think when we limit the contribution level we make it a more level playing field for everyone that is involved.”