Modesto’s Campaign donation ordinance, known as the TIN CUP or Time Is Now to Clean Up Politics, is coming in front of the Modesto City Council and citizens need to speak out. We have a chance to level the playing field between residents and special interest groups with deep pockets. The ordinance was originally adopted in 1986 and amended in 2005 at the request of Rob Ellett of the Chamber of Commerce, who wanted to do away with the ordinance altogether. The code prohibits council members from exerting any influence (voting) on a City decision in which he/she has reason to know they have a financial interest. The ordinance stated in 1986 that a council member has a prescribed financial interest if the decision will have a material effect on a major campaign contributor or someone who donated more than $1,000.
The original donation limits were $1,000 and and didn’t allow donations during the last week of the election. The changes adopted in 2005 were a $3,000 limit and did away with the “no donations clause” during the last week of the elections.
The currently proposed change limits a council race to $1,000 and a Mayoral race to $2,000. An examination of donation records called 460’s show, for example, Councilman Cogdill raised over $37,000 while not taking in ANY donations of more than $1,000. Councilman Muratore took only two donations of over $1,000 while raising $23,000 while Councilman Geer raised $11,000 while taking in only three donations of over $1,000 and Councilwoman Burnside accepted only four while raising $23,000. So a substantial amount of money can be raised while keeping a $1,000 limit.
An additional change that needs to be made but hasn’t yet been broached, is a notification limit (to the Modesto City Clerk to be published immediately) of 48 hours for $1,000 independent expenditures for those Political Action Committees called (PACs). The limit should come in to play AFTER the mail-in ballots have been sent out to voters. An example of this occurred just last year: Councilman Lopez had maxed out the amount the Modesto Fire Fighters Union could donate ($2,962) to his campaign early and his campaign went back to the well for an independent expenditure from them of over $2,000 in June. In addition to that a $6,000 expenditure for two mailers during the last two weeks of the election after the ballots had been mailed.
These suggested changes do NOT limit the amounts anyone can donate to candidates. They only either stop an elected official from voting in support of a donor if limits are exceeded, or as in the case of “late expenditures” help notify the public when someone from outside the campaign is trying to influence the voters. Hopefully then the Modesto Bee and other media will hopefully enlighten the public as to what is going on.
We need to” level the playing field” when it comes to our elections. A $3,000 limit allows too much influence to be applied by deep pocketed special interest groups of any kind. Please make your opinion known by emailing or calling your council representatives.