An Editorial in Collaboration with Elaine De Man

On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, The Board of Supervisors will have a second reading of an Ordinance accepting the state $4900 limit on campaign contributions, effective January 1, 2021, as well as establishing limits on loans from candidates to their own campaigns.

In this ordinance:

“A person may not make to a candidate or the candidate’s controlled committee, and a candidate or the candidate’s controlled committee may not accept from a person, any contribution or series of contributions totaling more than the per election amount permitted [$4900] in Cal. Gov. Code § 85301(a), as adjusted by the Fair Political Practices Commission pursuant to Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations § 18544.” Supervisor candidates will be limited to $10,000 and candidates for countywide elective offices to $20,000. To read the executive summary of the ordinance click here. The full ordinance is also here as item 7J on the county supervisors agenda, with a download-ready word document.

The intent is to make our elections more equitable, and we celebrate this. Until now, there have been no campaign donation limits. As a result, our elections have become very expensive to run and our elected officials too easily influenced by financial interests.

But what difference will a $4900 campaign donation limit make?

There are many opportunities for loopholes. And how will existing war chests incumbents already have factor into this? As of their latest filings with the FPPC, supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Ryan Gregory have existing campaign war chests containing $69,204 and $68,066, respectively.

In a county as small as Napa, it makes sense to consider a cap on the total money a candidate can receive per election cycle. Case in point,during the last supervisor’s race for District 4, challenger Amber Manfree came within 387 votes of beating incumbent Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza. Manfree had only $65,874 to spend on her campaign, compared to some $375,000 accumulated over the 2020 and 2016 campaigns by Supervisor Pedroza. This was a race that involved fewer than 4,500 voters. A cap on donations in the $70,000 range would go a long way in leveling the field.

We support campaign finance reform, and this is a start. But why should a county election have the same cap as a statewide election? Napa County could have a smaller per person, business, or organization donation limit of $400. That would help keep the total donations to any campaign smaller and certainly level the playing field between the average person and the very wealthy.

A government for the people is not a government bought by multinational and wealthy interests. We need campaign reform that returns our elections to a human scale and relieves elected officials of implied promises made to big donors.