Mountain View Adopts Campaign Contribution Limits, Setting $1,000 Cap for Individual Donations | News
Huge contributions fueling local campaigns for public office are now banned in Mountain View, after the city council voted 5-2 last week to cap contributions at $1,000 each election cycle and establish strict tax requirements. reports for independent committees.
The city’s ordinance, which takes effect next month, prohibits candidates for city council from accepting contributions greater than $1,000 from an individual donor. Candidates who do not opt in to the city’s voluntary spending limits will be subject to even tighter restrictions and will only be able to accept contributions of up to $500.
Councilors Pat Showalter and Lisa Matichak both objected to the campaign rules, calling them unnecessary in a city where campaign spending has been modest and candidates have largely adhered to optional spending limits. In the 2022 election, all candidates for city council have pledged to spend no more than $27,094.
Mountain View is updating its campaign contribution rules following the passage of AB 571, new state regulations that encourage cities to adopt spending limits or accept the state’s default limit of $4,900. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, touted the bill as a solution to runaway campaign spending in small local elections, with some contributions exceeding six figures.
In his justification for the bill, Mullin wrote that some of these megadonors have business ahead of local government and this contributes to a “serious risk of real or perceived corruption.”
Under the new campaign rules, candidates will have 30 days to return money that goes against the city’s newly enacted limits before facing a penalty.
Additionally, independent campaigns that spend at least $500 to support or oppose candidates and actions in Mountain View will be required to file disclosure statements with the city. These independent spenders must also follow state and local rules around disclosing the major contributors who funneled money to these committees, which has been an issue in previous elections.
Those who spend less than $500 within 90 days of a local election will be dropped, which city officials say is a measured way to enforce the spirit of the ordinance without overburdening staff.
“This approach enhances the transparency of local elections while balancing the practical human resource requirements for local ordinance enforcement and allows for below-threshold campaign communications without reporting or disclosure,” according to a report from the staff.
While council members largely agreed with the independent committee’s rules, there was less consensus at the April 12 council meeting on campaign boundaries. Showalter said voluntary spending limits have been “extremely effective” in making running for city council relatively affordable and have cut election expenses well below those of other local towns. She said the existing rules are really the backbone of campaign reform, and the city rarely sees contributions over $1,000.
“I’m not sure that contribution limit is really that big, because I think the spending limit…is what really makes the difference,” Showalter said.
Matichak raised concerns that it would mean extra work for the city to avoid something that hasn’t been an issue so far.
“I feel like we’re adding an extra load on staff to monitor and process campaign contributions which I don’t think are a problem,” she said.
Absent local spending limits, however, the city would revert to the state’s standard limit of $4,900 for individual contributions, an amount that makes sense for top office campaigns and a half million, but seems excessive for a race for the local city council, Councilor Margaret Abe-Koga said. She said it wasn’t that hard to hit the spending cap with contributions of $1,000 or less.
Mayor Lucas Ramirez said rampant campaign spending isn’t a problem until it becomes one, and he favors putting regulations in place when candidates find it easier to ignore the voluntary limit in order to outspend their opponents. Many other cities have spending limits that are not being adhered to, he said, and that leads to people spending astronomical sums to support a campaign and win at the polls.
“I like the idea of a contribution limit when that happens,” he said.