Council Punts on Raising Donation Limits

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An Oakland city council committee decided to refer a proposal from City Attorney John Russo to double campaign contribution limits in city elections to the Public Ethics Commission. Councilwomen Jane Brunner and Jean Quan, who is running for mayor this year and opposes Russo’s recommendation, also rebuffed an effort by Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente to schedule Russo’s recommendation to the full council in mid March.

De La Fuente is a close friend and ally of mayoral candidate Don Perata who would greatly benefit from Russo’s proposal because he has already burned through more than $100,000 in campaign funds on expensive consultants. Russo’s proposal would raise the individual donation limits from $700 to $1,400 this year (they recently increased from $600) and allow mayoral candidates to spend more than $750,000 on this year’s campaign — a huge sum for one election cycle.

But if the council ultimately rejects the city attorney’s recommendation, then mayoral candidates will be limited to spending $379,000 before the November election under existing city law, which means that Perata can spend no more than $280,000 this year. Quan, by contrast, is running an almost all-volunteer effort and has only spent about $7,000 so far, meaning she can still spend more than $370,000 before election day.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Dan Purnell said at the committee meeting that he would recommend that the ethics commissioners conduct at least one special meeting in the coming weeks to address Russo’s proposal. Then after the ethics commission makes its own recommendation, it would come back to the council’s rules committee before heading to the full council sometime in March or early April.

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