By Nikki Garrett Metzger
(Victorville)- – 2012 is an election year. You see it on TV, you read about it everywhere, and here in the Victor Valley you can see the campaign signs just about any place you go. To finance all of that advertisement candidates have to raise funds and rely on contributors to help finance their run for elected office.
The topic of campaign contributions made it’s way into Tuesday night’s Victorville city council meeting. Council member Angela Valles requested that the council vote on a possible action to direct staff to prepare a council policy prohibiting city council members from accepting campaign contributions from people or agencies conducting business with the city.
Valles explained that there is so much talk and discussion around campaign contributions and that certain projects are pushed or not pushed because of donations from certain contributors. “Why don’t we just… put a policy out there that we don’t accept contributions from companies that do business with the city. Let’s start a new day, a fresh day and get out of that dark cloud so we can regain the trust of the public.”
Valles referred to the Desert Xpress project and businessman Buck Johns.
A heated discussion ensued. Council member Jim Kennedy said that there are campaign finance laws in place, and that the Supreme Court has ruled on allowable contributions. Also that the FPPC monitors this in California. “I don’t see any reason to do this, I don’t want to deny the right of free speech to anyone. We have a Supreme Court ruling on this. Free speech, campaign contributions are covered. Bad idea…I’m completely against it.”
Questions that were asked included how this would be monitored, and how council members would know which contributors were doing business with the city.
Valles said that city staff could provide a vendor list from their database. She also mentioned that she is aware that the FPPC and others are monitoring campaign contributions, but that she would like to go above and beyond and maybe set the example for other governing bodies.
City attorney Andre de Bortnowsky pointed out that this is a very difficult issue in terms of constitutional rights and first amendment rights. “Cities that have adopted these are very narrowly crafted and they have to be done by either ordinance or resolution. They are really only upheld from a constitutional challenge standpoint if it can clearly be shown that you are doing something to avoid impropriety.”
He went on to explain that a few cities have done it, many cities have been challenged on it, and that’s why most cities don’t do it.
The discussion continued – Valles explained that one of the problems she was having was that the city attorney was contributing to some of the council members, and she said these are the council members that do not want to get rid of the attorney.
“That’s the problem that I”m having, and that’s why I bring things like this up. So its important that if we want to get out of this dark cloud and start regaining trust and integrity back to government, we need to do this,” Valles said.
Council member Mike Rothschild rebutted, “The implication that a $99 contribution from Andre de Bortnowsky to my campaign is the reason I’m keeping him as city attorney…now that’s just ludicrous. He’s our city attorney because he’s got a proven record.”
He continued, “The point is that these issues have been considered and decided by higher authorities. I don’t think it makes any sense to impose a rule on the council. Every one of us sitting in this council, and Angela you would agree with this, has decided that there are some contributors that they will not take a contribution from, am I right? That is a personal decision. That’s my personal, ethical decision, and that’s where I think it should stay.”
After further discussion a motion was made and the council members voted. The motion failed.
Mayor Ryan McEachron spoke with us about the issue. “I think that the issue when it comes to campaign contributions is clear and simple – it is about freedom of speech and first amendment rights. If someone wants to contribute to me or any other council member that is their right. Now us as council members can choose whether or not we take money from particular contributors or not. As council member Kennedy pointed out that becomes our own issue.”
When the discussion was taking place about this issue before the vote, businessman Dan Tate was mentioned as a heavy contributor to McEachron’s campaign. McEachron addressed that head on both at the council meeting Tuesday night and in his interview with High Desert Daily.
“I think that we all have our supporters, people that wish to support us financially and I think that those people have a right to make those contributions. At the end of the day if they are not happy with us they have the right to not make those contributions. And that’s exactly what happened with me and Dan Tate. He wanted me to do something that I was not willing to do, and so he no longer supports me. I understand that. You don’t spend $150,000 to get someone elected and not expect them to do something for you. But, unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to do what he wanted me to do so he is no longer supportive of me and I’m fine with that.”
“What’s most important is that as council members we don’t sit up there and vote based upon campaign contributions. That’s not the moral or ethical thing to do. What we should do is evaluate the issues before us and make the appropriate decisions that are in the best interest of our constituents.”
That last paragraph reflects the decision making that I and others have done to move us forward out of these difficult times.