Local Politicians Get Brief Reprieve From Campaign Donor Limit
An interpretation of a law going into effect Jan. 1 will make it easier for publicly elected officials to vote on certain items.
Senate Bill 1439 — signed into law this year — limits any business that has a license, permit, or other entitlement in front of a local government agency to contribute a maximum of $250 to an elected official making that decision.
It is expected to affect the development industry, among other groups.
If the amount is over $250, the elected official would have to either return the money or recuse him or herself.
Already in place for non-elected members of a commission or board, the rules now apply to local elected leaders.
The law includes timelines establishing when a decision maker is clear after receiving a contribution, which is 12 months later. The new law now extends the time before a decision is made, from three months to 12.
That created uncertainty — would the 12-month “look back” apply to contributions made in 2022, before the law technically takes effect?
Now, there is clarification. The answer is no. The Fair Political Practices Commission says that any contribution made in 2022 will not apply under the new law.
“No provision expressly states the statute is intended to apply to local elected officials based on conduct that occurred prior to the amendments taking effect,” the opinion says.
The opinion will be considered by the FPPC board on Dec. 22.
The law does not apply to labor contracts, competitive bidding, or personal employment contracts.
Related Story: Unions Exempt From New State Law Taking Big Money Out of Fresno Politics
Also in Politics 101 …
- Who will enforce SB 1439?
- Mendota’s mayor resigns. Now what happens?
- State Constitution provision doesn’t apply to Esmeralda Soria.
Who Will Enforce?
The city of Clovis says it is up to councilmembers to police themselves.
“City staff will work with council members to educate and inform them of the change. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each council member to know from whom they have received contributions greater than $250. Staff will make every effort to identify on the agenda and the staff report who the developer is of a project to assist the council member,” city spokesman Chad McCollum said.
Fresno County is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“County Counsel is studying SB1439 and procedures since the bill doesn’t set up a specific plan or obligation for the entity to comply and there are still some unknowns at this point. As we learn more about this bill and its procedures, the county can then assist with the flow of information to the Board members so they know when they would need to recuse themselves or refrain from accepting or returning a donation,” spokeswoman Sonja Dosti said.
Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz referred the question to the city manager or the city council president. Neither replied to Politics 101’s request for comment.
During non-election years, local elected members update their contributions paperwork twice annually.
The law also requires those with business in front of a government agency to disclose contributions of $250 or more in the applicable time period.
Mendota Mayor Resigns Seat Before Swearing-In
On Sunday, Mendota mayor Rolando Castro was arrested by city police on a domestic violence charge. Before Tuesday’s meeting where he was scheduled to be sworn-in for a new term, Castro resigned, blaming the media.
“Effective immediately I resign from my position on the Mendota City Council due to personal reasons. While I focus on my priorities, which is my family, I ask that the public and the media respect our privacy. The media has created a detriment to my family and I with their recent senseless activities,” Castro wrote in his resignation letter.
Voters last month elected three members to the City Council on the same at-large ballot — Victor Martinez, Liberty Lopez, and Castro. Incumbents Joseph Riofrio and Jesse Mendoza lost. Castro finished third in an 8-person race.
Related Story: Mendota Mayor Arrested After Police Respond to Domestic Violence Call
Vacancy Filling Options
Because Mendota is a general law city, it defers to state law on how to fill the vacancy. Government Code 36512 gives the city 60 days to appoint someone to the position or call for a special election.
If the City Council chooses an appointment, the councilmember would stand for election in November 2024 to finish the remaining two years of the term.
A special election would be held “on the next regularly established election date not less than 114 days from the call of the special election.”
The next election date under that circumstance would be November 7, 2023.
The choices boil down to having a vacant seat for 11 months, or having someone unelected hold the spot for nearly two years.
Voter turnout in November’s election was only 31%.
Despite What Constitution Says, Soria OK
At a first glance of the state Constitution, it may appear that new Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria would not be eligible to be elected. Article IV, Sec. 2 (c) requires members of the Legislature to reside in the district they represent for at least one year at the time of election.
Soria, D-Fresno, moved into her northwest Fresno rental home in February 2022 — only nine months prior to her election.
Several legal experts, including the Secretary of State, say the U.S. Constitution makes the one-year time duration unenforceable.
“Don’t believe everything you read in the Constitution,” Paul Mitchel of Political Data, Inc. said.
“Durational residency requirements imposed as a precondition to candidacy for public policy have been found to implicate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, specifically the fundamental rights to vote and to travel,” an analysis from the city of Petaluma said.
Similarly, gay marriage (through 2008’s Proposition 8) is technically illegal under the state Constitution. The language has yet to be officially removed even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down.