San Jose is expected to nix a voluntary spending cap and change several other local election laws to match state requirements.
Election code revisions come up for review at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, well in advance of the Dec. 10 opening of the campaign contribution period for the June 2016 primary.
Earlier this month, the council voted 9-2—with Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilman Don Rocha opposed—to eliminate the voluntary cap candidate spending. The limit was tied to the population of each council district and ranged from $130,000 for council hopefuls to $800,000 for mayoral candidates.
The council also voted to revise the rules for reporting late campaign donations. Unlike state law requiring candidates to report donations of $1,000 or more in the final three months before an election day, San Jose adopted a rule in 2011 to report donations of $250 or more in the final 16 days.
But the difference between state and local law confused candidates and City Clerk Toni Taber, who misdirected candidates in this latest council race. The result: about 40 candidates, including several currently serving on the council, broke the law.
In the special election to fill the north San Jose District 4 seat this past summer, Councilman Manh Nguyen failed to correctly report about $200,000 in late contributions. While looking into a complaint against the newly elected councilman, the city’s Ethics Commission found a host of other violators. Some of them—namely Mayor Liccardo, Vice Mayor Rose Herrera and council members Rocha and Pierluigi Oliverio—voted for the laws in the first place.
Yet the city hit only Nguyen with a $10,000 penalty after a complaint was filed prior to his election.
The Ethics Commission then launched a sweeping probe into the 40 other violations. That investigation, led by law firm Hanson Bridgett, is expected to stretch into November. But it could take a while longer, depending on how quickly candidates respond to the investigators, according to Hanson Bridgett attorney Steve Miller.
Some other changes to the election code up for a final reading this week include having the city clerk send out a press release instead of a Mercury News ad to publish campaign statements.
The city will also change deadlines to retire campaign debt to 11:59pm instead of midnight, to avoid confusion about which day the deadline refers to. Candidates will only have to disclose who paid for mailings—not yard signs, fliers, and billboards—as per the state’s Fair Political Action Committee standards.
As for the voluntary spending cap, the council agreed that the purpose has been rendered moot since it does nothing to stop special interest groups from pouring unlimited cash to support or oppose a candidate—something protected as free speech after the Citizens United ruling.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for October 20, 2015:
- A federal $393,000 grant will help the San Jose Police Department investigate Internet crime against children.
- In 1999, San Jose voted against an application from Calpine to build a power plant in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Two years later, that decision was overturned, and the company built the facility anyway. As a peace offering, the company agreed to build two air-monitoring stations to measure environmental impacts. All these years later, those have yet to be built. Now, Councilman Ash Kalra and Mayor Liccardo say it might be better to have Calpine pay the city in lieu of building those stations, since the company has yet to make good on the deal 15 years later.
- The council will vote on whether to draft a “notice of support” letter for the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2015, or H.R. 2140. The bill by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) seeks to withhold non-humanitarian aid from the government of Vietnam in protest of its civil rights violations against political and religious prisoners, journalists, labor unions and free speech advocates. The resolution, brought by Mayor Liccardo and council members Kalra, Tam Nguyen and Manh Nguyen would direct the city to send a statement in support of the legislation to President Obama, Rep. Smith and other leaders in the nation’s capitol. “As a beacon of civil liberties around the world, our country has never shied away from its commitment to basic human rights,” the memo reads. “We should not stand idly by while tyrants repress their people, least of all from our trade partners. Access to our economy and the opportunity for financial gain must be earned through compliance with the basic rules of human dignity and fairness. Unfortunately, Vietnam has continued to push the limits of our tolerance in this regard. Almost four decades after the Vietnam War, Vietnam has continued its use of force, intimidation and imprisonment to silence and oppress its people.”
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260