The Star-News

Contributions unlimited

Sat, Feb 23 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo

A resolution to limit campaign contributions to candidates for the Sweetwater Union High School District board failed Tuesday for lack of support.

Trustee Bertha Lopez made the motion to pass the resolution, which sought to place a $750 limit on contributions and limit contributors to individuals. She did not receive a second.

The district does not currently have a limit on the amount or type of campaign contributions that a school board candidate can accept.

The agenda item has been brought up in recent years by community members as a means to eliminate bad public perception and show transparency among board members.

Members of the public weren’t surprised at the decision during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

Community member and parent Maty Adato has attempted to get the resolution on the agenda for the last year.

During a January board meeting, Adato advised the board she retained an attorney in order to get a court order from the superior court to have the item agendized.

“They weren’t going to put it on the agenda if I hadn’t consulted an attorney,” she said.

During public comment Adato asked the board to pass the resolution.

“All eyes are on you tonight,” she said. “Will you do the right thing? Will you recuse yourselves or will you let the resolution die?”

Board Vice President Arlie Ricasa told Adato that through the work of a committee to be formed to craft another resolution, it could be amended and considered without waiting a year.

Adato said she intends to email board President Jim Cartmill, seeking a volunteer position on the committee.

Adato wasn’t the first to bring the resolution to the board.

Former Sweetwater district educator Nancy Stubbs first presented it during a December 2011 meeting, based on the majority of donations from vendors rather than the general community. The request failed.

Board trustee John McCann said while he supports the idea with the committee, changes  need to be made to the resolution.

“It has a gaping hole for special interests,” McCann said. “We need to make sure that it’s legal, proper and I’d like to see an analysis to see what other municipalities are doing throughout the state. I do think we need campaign finance reform but it doesn’t need to be half-baked.”

The three-page resolution states: “no person, other than a candidate, shall make a contribution in excess of $750.00 for a single election contest. No candidate shall solicit or accept a contribution in excess of $750.00 from a person for a single election contest.”

It also states that no organization, business proprietorship, labor union, firm, joint venture, business, trust, company, association or committee, among others, could make a contribution be it a gift, loan, advance, deposit, pledge, contract, agreement or promise, directly to any candidate for more than $750.

San Diego County, the city of Chula Vista, city of San Diego and San Diego city schools have adopted ordinances regulating campaign contributions.

In 2012 the Southwestern College governing board passed a campaign finance reform initiative placing a cap on political contributions at $1,000 per donor.

SWC board member Humberto Peraza brought the motion to the board based on city and community college models to minimize the influence on board elections and district decision-making.

“High schools and elementary school districts don’t have limits,” Peraza said last year. “Unlimited is unacceptable…

When you start having checks for $30,000, I think that’s a problem.”

The resolution comes during a tumultuous time — four of the five board members face criminal charges, some of which relate directly to campaign contributions.

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