Category Archives: Fair campaign finances

Benicia’s Campaign Fairness Ordinance; Can We Make it Better?

Benicia’s Campaign Fairness Ordinance; Can We Make it Better?

City Council Decides to Take a Look

By Ralph Dennis

Larnie Fox, a PDB member, sent a note out recently through Benicia Resist! mentioning City Council’s decision, unanimously, to agendize a discussion of a possible strengthening of our local campaign fairness ordinance. He included this bit from the agenda:

“Council member Tom Campbell submitted a two-step process request on November 15, 2018 for Council consideration of possible changes to the campaign ordinance. This Request is to determine whether or not the Council would like to agendize the topic for discussion at a future Council meeting.
Recommendation: Discuss the request and provide direction to staff.”

Larnie encouraged all Benicia Resisters! to show up in January. We should all show up at the January City Council to support efforts to disallow the dark tactics, as Larnie described, that Valero used during the recent election.

I would add, that there isn’t much, if anything, we can do about the amount of money coming in, if someone wants to do it, due to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2008. But, Benicia does have its campaign ordinances, and one that already requires information to be filed by the dark tactics players; and, even those players made the required filings this past election. It wasn’t enough, of course.

So, maybe something can be done to tighten up the ordinance itself. Councilman Campbell alluded to this while discussing his request. As an example, if the City can’t make the pollsters divulge who paid for the polling because it would bias the poll, then maybe we can require that information, say, 48 hours after the poll is conducted. His self-described goal: make sure the voters know “when they step into the voting booth” who is backing each candidate.

It occurs to me as I write this, and after reviewing the actual request from Councilman Campbell and Benicia’s municipal code’s campaign ordinances: I wonder if we know which ordinance we’re taking a look at? Or, are we looking at all of them? The City Attorney’s letter sent back in September to the pollsters, mentioned that “the city has several campaign ordinances.” And, by example, referred to Benicia Municipal Code Section 1.40.042 which requires certain disclosures for campaign communications funded by independent expenditures. This sounds like the one Campbell is after.

We shall see what happens, but at least here is an opportunity to do something, perhaps.

When? I couldn’t find the Council’s official 2019 agenda schedule, apparently it is not posted yet on the City’s web site. However, I asked Steve Young, who said that Council will meet on Jan. 15 and Jan. 22.

Which meeting? At the Council meeting, City Manager Lorie Tinfrow said this item will be on a January agenda, but did not indicate then at which meeting. I think we should know soon, though, and we’ll let you know once the date is set. Check the PDB web site for updates!

Our next meeting is Jan. 8. We’ll discuss this item during the meeting.