Former Staff Writer
The candidates in the next Santa Clarita City Council election may be the same, but the money flowing between political committees may not.
A proposal will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday to limit the amount individuals can contribute to local political action committees. The motion comes following the most expensive election in Santa Clarita history.
Councilman Cameron Smyth, who is up for re-election in April 2004, authored the measure because he said this year’s election was influenced by a few major contributors and reduced the public’s role.
“When you see PACs accounted for over $90,000 in campaign spending – which is more than some candidates raised combined – you can’t help but see the influence of that in the election,” Smyth said. “The influence of PACs can also be frustrating to the public, when people give their hard-earned money to a candidate they support, only to have a PAC come in attempting to sway an election.”
Smyth is asking to change the city’s election code to limit individual contributions to PACs to $250 per person per committee. Currently there is no ceiling on such donations. City code states individual donations to candidates’ election committees cannot exceed $250 per person per contest.
The change would only impact city elections, not those under county or state jurisdictions, including school and water boards.
Mayor Frank Ferry disagrees with Smyth’s proposal.
“If you are going to start making different rules for different people, we’re going to cause problems,” Ferry said.
Instead of the $250 limit proposed by Smyth, Ferry said the city should follow state laws, which allow individuals to give $1,000 per PAC. Ferry added that new campaign rules would confuse the electorate.
“Everybody would be playing by different rules,” Ferry said. “If we pigeonhole this, people are going to look for loopholes. And people are going to ask, ‘;What is going to happen after the next race?'”
He said he would propose the state standards as an alternative.
Ferry, the election’s top vote-getter, raised more than $75,000 in individual contributions, figures show. It was the most ever raised by a Santa Clarita council candidate.
The biggest contributor in April’s election was Waste Management Inc., one of the city’s trash haulers that is planning to bid on the city’s new trash contracts. The City Council is expected to vote on the new trash contracts in the spring.
According to city campaign expenditure reports, Waste Management gave $20,000 to a PAC run by developer consultant Allan Cameron and paid $12,000 for mailers and phone bank efforts for candidates Ferry, Councilwoman Marsha McLean and former mayor Jan Heidt.
McLean finished second, behind Ferry, and Heidt placed fourth, behind Councilwoman Laurene Weste.
Local landowner Larry Rasmussen spent $4,000 on behalf of Weste, while developer Jack Shine gave $7,500 to the PAC Citizens for Responsible Government, which supported Ferry and Heidt.
“This measure will level the playing field between candidates and PACs in contributions and reporting,” Smyth said. “I believe it reduces the ability of one entity to dramatically influence an election.”
Ferry said limiting PAC contributions to $250 hurts potential candidates who believe raising money isn’t their strong suit.
“Who’s to say that individuals, just because they’re bad at fund-raising, shouldn’t be a council member,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m not passing something to keep people out. We have some excellent people in our community who can be excellent City Council members.”
Election campaigns prior to the 2002 contest included hit pieces funded by PACs that attacked specific candidates. PACs are required by law to disclose the amount spent on each candidate, but most of those reports aren’t due until a few days before the election.
That’s what happened this year.
Waste Management and other PACs weren’t required to turn in contribution reports until the day before the election due to the last-minute expenses on behalf of candidates.
Ferry said following state campaign laws would be the best thing to do, and not look reactionary.
“Let’s not look like were playing city politics here,” Ferry said.
Smyth said he recognizes that he is cutting funds that could be used to elect him to a second term.
“I think this could definitely impact me as a candidate,” he said. “But I think its more important to do the right thing for the community, than what can benefit me politically.”
The council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council’s chambers at City Hall, 23920 Valencia Blvd.