By Marianne Napoles

 

City council candidates in Chino Hills will not be permitted to accept campaign contributions higher than $4,700 in future elections because of a new state law going into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

AB 571, signed by Gov. Newsom in 2019, establishes the default limit at $4,700 for cities and counties that have not adopted their own limits.

This amount is the same imposed by state for candidates running for senate and assembly seats.

The city council on Nov. 10 voted unanimously to take the default limit which is adjusted for inflation every odd-numbered year.

The City of Chino Hills, like most cities in California including Chino, does not limit campaign contributions. 

In cities without local limits, a single donor may give tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to a candidate for city council, according to a city staff report. 

There have been examples of $50,000, $100,000, and up to $244,000 contributions to candidates for local offices from donors with business in that jurisdiction, according to the report.

Chino Hills City Clerk Cheryl Balz said the sponsors of AB 571 were concerned that such large campaign contributions create a serious risk of actual or perceived corruption.

Ms. Balz gave the council three options:

•take no action and accept the default limit of $4,700 per contributor per election. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) would remain responsible for administration and the enforcement of violations

•adopt its own limits, that can be higher or lower than the $4,700, and the city would become responsible for administering the program and enforcing violations

•establish no limit and preserve the status quo of no limits on contributions.

Ms. Balz said if option two or three were chosen, the council would have to establish a policy and develop an ordinance prior to Dec. 31.

City attorney Mark Hensley said if the council establishes its own limits, the city would have to administer the program and enforcement through legal counsel or through a contract with the FPPC that could cost an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 per year.

Mr. Hensley said AB 571 is not as simple as it seems because individuals can still make contributions to political action committees that could contribute to the candidates.

He said he expects legal challenges to portions of the new law, especially on the provision related to loans.

Mayor Art Bennett said he doesn’t want the city to be involved with the enforcement aspect. “The FPPC is doing a good job now, let’s leave it that way,” he said.

Councilman Peter Rogers said going with the new state guidelines would be best suited for the city because it shows a support for campaign limits while not having to pay for the cost of tracking the reporting.

There was only one situation in Chino Hills city council history where a political action committee was formed in 2006 and donated $22,000 to three incumbent councilmen seeking re-election.

Most individual donors in Chino Hills council elections contribute between $99 and $1,000. 

Developers doing business in the city and political action committees such as the Chino Valley Professional Firefighters and the California Real Estate generally donate amounts ranging from $1,500 to $5,000. 

The City of Chino will also accept the state’s $4,700 contribution limits, said spokesperson Vivian Castro.

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