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May 14, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, May 14, 2004

Council tightens disclosure rule Council tightens disclosure rule (May 14, 2004)

Campaign donations of $50 or more will be made public

By Corey Pride

In a move to reform campaign financing, the Mountain View City Council voted Tuesday to increase access to campaign contribution information and require that contributions of $50 or more be listed at the city clerk's office.

The council did not, however, address its voluntary campaign spending cap for elections.

Starting this year the city will post all campaign disclosure forms online, in local newspapers and on public television. All campaign committees spending money in local elections will have to file disclosure forms, in an effort to help keep track of contributions and expenditures. Contributions received within a week of the election will have to be reported no later than five days before the public votes.

Council member Mike Kasperzak said allowing the public to know who is contributing what to whom allows voters to make better informed decisions when they go to the polls. Council member Nick Galiotto agrees.

"The posting of contributions by individuals and independent committees helps level the playing field and curb special interest," Galiotto said.

There had been some concern that donors were flying under the radar of public disclosure by contributing $99 to candidates, just $1 less than the $100 mandatory contribution disclosure minimum.

Bruce Karney, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2002, said, "I don't think we should have another election where you can give $99 contributions (and escape disclosure). We all know $99 contributions can and did add up to big money."

Karney lost the race but did not say if that influenced his opinions about campaign contribution disclosures.

Earlier this year, Karney, who is a member of the Mountain View Civic Forum, recommended to the council's procedure committee that a $50 disclosure threshold be set.

Mayor Matt Pear, who is running for reelection this fall, said lowering the reported contributions would just create cumbersome work for candidates like himself.

"If you're running a campaign by yourself you're doing the work yourself. The limits you're imposing are just (extra) paperwork," Pear said. "A lot of this is academic because you're talking about one aspect. If you're an office holder you are one up on someone running for the first time. I can recycle my signs."

An issue not taken up by the council was whether to change its voluntary campaign spending cap. In 2000 the council voted to set a voluntary cap at about $15,000 that would grow incrementally with inflation. In 2002 incumbents Kasperzak and Matt Neely agreed to the then $15,914 limit but exceeded it by the time their campaigns ended. Kasperzak spent $18,729 and Neely spent $16,640.

At the council meeting Kasperzak said he believes the expenditure reporting was unfair to him.

"I gave a $500 contribution back. But because that was a check that I wrote it went down as an expenditure when I was just trying to return the money," Kasperzak said in a phone interview.

Councilman Greg Perry would like to see a concrete spending limit in the future.

"We need to include a spending limit. Right now we're just swamping people with money," he said.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said she would like to see people held to a strict expenditure limit.

"I think a campaign, like anything else, you need to come up with a budget," Stasek said. "Now it's not so much what you spend, but what you perceive the other candidate is spending and it becomes an arms race."

Galiotto said he doesn't see a solution for people who exceed the voluntary spending cap.

"What sanctions would you impose? If you fine them $200 or even $1,000 they still got what they wanted -- (to be) in office," he said "The only real consequence is being thrown out of office and I don't think that's feasible."

Perry submitted a motion that called for limiting the amount of contributions a candidate could receive to the amount of expenditures he could make. It failed five to two with just he and Councilwoman Mary Lou Zoglin voting for it.

Jane Turnbull, president of the Los Altos/Mountain View League of Women voters, offered to provide a link to the posting of candidate contributions on her organization's Web site.

"We don't consider it a perfect ordinance but you are going in the right direction," Turnbull told the council.

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