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Lynne Plambeck: Speak out on campaign-finance reform

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 23, 2010 8:54 p.m.
Updated: June 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

SCOPE has long promoted campaign-financing reform. Monied interests have an unbalanced and negative affect on our election process that discourages voter participation and skews the electoral process away from the voice of the community and toward whatever special interest has the most money.

It discourages good candidates from running for office because they don’t believe they can compete in the face of huge campaign donations to incumbents.

It also discourages needed long-term sustainable environmental reforms because candidates promoted by wealthy special interests are generally concerned only with the short-term success of that business venture, and not the long-term health and quality of life of the community.

We already have this problem in Santa Clarita due to unlimited political action committee funding for candidates. Increasing the campaign donation limit to $1,000 for Santa Clarita City Council races, which is proposed by this ordinance, would only exacerbate the problem. 

In spite of many community members turning out at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to speak in opposition of increasing the campaign-contribution limits, the council voted to move forward with this new proposal. Only Councilman Bob Kellar, to his credit, voted against the new funding ceiling. 

Like lemmings following each other over a cliff, the council cited other jurisdictions that also have high limits. I guess no one ever told them that just because others are doing something, doesn’t make it right. They failed to cite the examples of well-run cities such as Thousand Oaks and Pasadena, not only have low individual contribution limits, but also have stricter rules and limits for PACs.

The city’s campaign ordinance was already revised a few years ago. At that time, the contribution limit was increased to $360 from $250, again with protest from the public over the influence of special-interest dollars in our local elections. Now, at a time when this concern has reached an even higher pitch in the community, it is ironic that the Council would consider increasing campaign donation funding levels again and to such a high level.

Rather than change the part of our campaign-funding ordinance that is working correctly by serving to force disclosure and strictly limit donations, we believe that the council ought to be addressing the issue of unlimited funding and the reporting failures of PACs, especially the Citizens for Integrity in Government PAC.

This PAC has failed to file required reports in a timely manner, so the voting public was not informed of the special-interest source of the money behind its candidates. In the previous election, the public did not know until well after election day that G&L Realty supported Councilwoman Laurie Ender. G&L Realty, the developer behind the dense five-story office structures on McBean Parkway supported by Ender, donated around $30,000 to the Citizens for Integrity PAC to send out mailers on her behalf.

These office buildings will add significantly to traffic and noise problems in this residential neighborhood. In deference to the developer, the council refused to even require the many energy-efficient features now available to commercial buildings that would have helped us reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases generated by this project.

The council can and should address this problem by requiring additional disclosure and fines for those groups that ignore reporting disclosure laws for PACs in city elections.

We oppose changes to our current election contribution ordinance and request that the council instead address the much-needed reforms described above for political-action committees operating in the city of Santa Clarita.

Tuesday’s agenda item was only the first reading of this ordinance, so if you missed it, don’t worry. You still have the opportunity to voice your opinion on this matter.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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