Take the Special Interest Money out of Politics Lower Campaign Donation Limits
By Emerson Drake
A change in Modesto’s TIN CUP Ordinance (Time Is Now To Clean Up Politics) is coming up before the Modesto City Council and we need YOUR help. In 2005 the Modesto Chamber of Commerce asked the council to eliminate the donation limits candidates can receive before they are forced to recuse themselves or step back from discussion and voting on a subject a contributor brought before the council. It other words the Chamber wanted to make it so they could give many thousands of dollars to council members and they could vote for whatever the donor wanted.
Imagine where we would be if that had passed.
Instead the council decided to raise the limits from $1,000 to $3,000 before the cutoff limit was reached. Since then we have divided the city up into six districts lowering the cost of running for office. Unfortunately this has brought forth excessive amounts of special interest money into the campaigns of some.
There is another argument being made by Councilman Lopez in which he suggests to be a good council member you must have the intestinal fortitude to ask for $3,000 or you won’t be worth your salt on the council. But that isn’t how he plays the game. For insistence, he asked the Modesto Fire Fighters Union for $2,962 just under the limit before he would have to recuse himself. He also asked the Modesto Police Officers Union, the MPOA, for $2,750 again just under the donation limit.
The argument is being made you need $6,000 to mail a flyer but in checking Lopez’s campaign reports ( called 460,s) the costs of running a mailer are around $3,000.
After checking the 460’s of the most recent council races I discovered very few donations were made OVER $1,000 in fact, with only a couple of small exceptions (over by a couple of hundred dollars) all of the candidate’s contributions were below the $1,000 threshold EXCEPT for those of special interests. The special interest money came from unions, developers, and Lobbyists.
When comparing the money spent on council races a few other things became apparent. When developer money (especially Salida area developers “surprise surprise”) piled in on a candidate like Dave Cogdill Jr., he spent it like it was on fire. Councilman Cogdill spent $37,747 to get elected, took in at least 15 donations of $1,000 and his opponent spent about $2,000. Talk about a case of ego and overkill.
As a comparison Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside’s spent $23,000 and took six donations of $1,000 or more (two from Burnside Auto Body) and the rest were basically $500 and under. Her opponent Jenny Kenoyer collected one contribution of $500 and the rest were smaller. She raised and spent $13,000 on her campaign showing it can be done.
What the Bee didn’t mention in their recent article is the Modesto Fire Fighter’s Union made two independent campaign expenditures to Councilman Lopez’s campaign. They spent $2,000 in telephone calls in July and they spent another $6,000 in the final weeks of the race for mailers supporting Lopez. Todd Aaronson, Lopez’s major opponent, took in only six donations of $1,000 or more.
In other words Councilman Lopez out spent Aaronson by over 2-1 NOT counting the eight thousand dollars spent by the Fire Fighters Union. If special interests are going to weigh in so heavily we need to know about it. That will be my next attempt to update the TIN CUP Ordinance.
So if you can take a moment, please email this to your friends to make them aware of OUR opportunity to take Modesto out of the hands of the special interest groups be they Union, Lobbyist, OR Developer. Here is the list of Council emails I welcome you to write to:
You can call them at (209)571-5169
Be an Engaged Citizen…!
A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.