Committee approves campaign funding caps by 3-2 vote: City Council to vote on proposal June 3

SAN DIEGO - A divided Rules and Economic Development Committee Wednesday approved a proposal to limit the amount of money political parties can give candidates and causes in municipal elections in San Diego.

The recommendation, which passed on a 3-2 vote, would hold party contributions to $20,000 for citywide campaigns, like for mayor or city attorney, and $10,000 for City Council races. It will next go to the full City Council for final approval.

San Diego's old $1,000 lid was struck down by a judge as too restrictive, so there were no limits on party giving for the 2012 elections.

The city's Ethics Commission had recommended limits of $12,000 for citywide campaigns and $3,000 for council races, but committee members David Alvarez and Marti Emerald said the Republican Party threatened to sue if the lower levels became law.

UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser, hired as an outside advisor on this issue, recommended the new limits Wednesday.

The higher limits are "legally, the safest way to go forward," Alvarez said.

"$10,000 and $20,000 is a reasonable limit and I do believe we do need to limit these contributions," said Emerald.

Committee members Kevin Faulconer and Mark Kersey cast the dissenting votes. Faulconer said he backed the prior $1,000 limit and thought the Ethics Commission should be supported.

Sherri Lightner, who chairs the Rules and Economic Development Committee, said the goal is to know "who is supporting these candidates and to have it be as transparent a process as possible."

Currently, individuals can give up to $500 to candidates. However, it can give much more to political parties. This was the case with U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester, who donated $65,000 to the local Republican Party. The party later gave the same amount to Carl DeMaio's mayoral campaign, but DeMaio eventually lost the election to Bob Filner.

Nobody from the Republican Party of San Diego County spoke during the meeting, but Chairman Tony Krvaric told 10News, "We believe limits on the First Amendment rights of broad based democratically elected political parties are unconstitutional."

Other metropolitan cities that do not have spending limits for political parties include Chicago, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio.

The item is expected to be considered by the full City Council before June 3, when the next election cycle begins -- one year from the next scheduled primary vote for even-numbered council offices.

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