Dollar Detail

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, which equated corporate donations to political campaigns as free speech, therefore making them unrestricted, campaign finance reform in America has become a heavy lift.

But Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams wants the county to take a swing at it, because she believes local political campaigns should not require so much money.

Adams spoke a lot about campaign finance reform in her 2016 campaign for supervisor – “People throughout the district were very supportive of it,” she says – and after taking office, she asked county staff to bring a campaign finance ordinance before the Board of Supervisors.

County Counsel Charles McKee presented a draft ordinance to the supervisors Sept. 19 that would have limited individual contributions to 2 percent of the county’s median income, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau. That median is $58,783, making today’s maximum political gift $1,175.66 under the proposed ordinance.

But other supervisors and some residents expressed concerns over the donation limits, worried about big spending by candidates backed by corporate interests, which can form separate – and unlimited – expenditure committees to attack political opponents.

That can and does occur now, but if individual donations to candidates’ campaign funds becomes limited, they express worry that such committees will become more attractive to large donors and gain even more power.

“In Monterey County, we have several multibillion-dollar industries that will invest in campaigns whether we have limits or not,” Supervisor Jane Parker says. “They will be more sophisticated to navigate these complex rules than individuals.”

After hearing the concerns, McKee is revising the draft ordinance and expects to present a new take to the supervisors in a few weeks. He says he has not yet formed an opinion over whether it could limit the impact of dark money on elections.

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