The last Escondido City Council meeting on March 21, had several interesting items on the agenda, but the one that generated the most public attention was number 17: Request that the City Council consider amendments to the campaign control ordinance in the Escondido Municipal Code and provide direction for final changes and adoptions.
Basically this was a proposal to bring Escondido’s campaign laws in line with California’s Political Reform Act (PRA) —for example the city required all payments from a campaign to be made by check, while the PRA allows electronic payments.
Greg Dean and Patricia Borchmann both noted that compared to other cities, the contribution limit for Escondido was pretty high, $4,100 per individual donor, vs. $100 to $1000 in other cities in the county. Borchmann pointed out how difficult it was for ordinary citizens to contribute $4,100.
Councilman John Masson responded that six of cities listed had no limit on individual contributions.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz noted that she had voted for the increase in the campaign limit from $560 to $4,100 in 2013, since she felt that was a better option than no limit at all—which had been proposed at the time. She dislikes one of the PRA rules that allows up to $100 of individual anonymous cash contributions. She felt the code should be changed to allow up to $100 of cash contributions, but the donors should not be anonymous.
Councilman Ed Gallo agreed with the changes, and agreed with Diaz that anonymous contributions should continue to be disallowed in Escondido.
Mayor Sam Abed agreed that there should be no “unanimous” contributions allowed, and suggested that the limit should be increased to $4,300 in line with the PRA.
Masson liked that idea too—we should simplify, he insisted, and tie everything to the PRA. Staff explained that the PRA $4,300 limit was specific to those running for the state legislature.
After a little more back and forth, the council voted to approve the suggested revisions to the code, with the exception that anonymous contributions would continue to not be allowed, and the limit be increased to $4,300.
In arguing for the increased limit, Abed said that such checks represented less than 1% of the total checks. Well, that’s not quite true for Abed. His Schedule 460 for the July 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017 shows a total of $117,100 in contributions to his campaign. Of that total, $53,971 was transferred from his 2014 mayoral campaign account, meaning that he received a total of $63,129 in contributions in that six-month period. Of that total, four of the 98 checks received were for $4,100—or about 5% of the number of checks, but 26% of the amount of money he received.
Abed also pointed out that donors could have their spouses or family members contribute as well, so an artificially low limit was easily overcome—perhaps explaining his lack of reluctance to disallow anonymous donations.
One of those $4,100 contributions to Abed was from Safari Highlands Ranch. Yet, I’m sure Abed will not recuse himself from voting for that project. There is no law that would force him to do so. This is just one more example of how embedded the crony capitalist system is in our system.