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Proposed repeal of Ventura County's campaign finance reform ordinance generates controversy

There's controversy over a proposal to repeal Ventura County Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance, in favor of a statewide law.
Element 5 Digital
There's controversy over a proposal to repeal Ventura County's Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance, in favor of a statewide law.

Proponents call it redundant because of state laws, but opponents say it would lift individual donation limits to county candidates from $750 to $5500.

How do make sure that the people who represent us aren’t influenced by big campaign donors?

In Ventura County, elected county officials have been covered by two decades by a campaign finance reform ordinance. But, there’s controversy over a proposal to repeal it.

Ventura County Supervisors Jeff Gorell and Janis Parvin proposed dumping the ordinance. They said some campaign reform laws created during the last few years have made the county ordinance unnecessary, and redundant.

The plan’s proponents say that 33 of the state’s 58 counties are using the state’s Political Reform Act as their guidelines for campaign regulation.

But, some people disagree. At a public hearing on the proposal, Debby Mitchell was one of those who spoke against repealing the 2003 ordinance.

"To remove campaign limits in Ventura County is not inclusive of the population, is a step backwards in public trust, social justice, and transparency," said Mitchell.

Former Ventura Mayor Christy Weir says the ordinance has worked well for the county: "Our local campaign ordinances are way better than the state," said Weir.

One of the key issues in the controversy is how individual contributions to county campaigns would be impacted. It’s currently limited to $750, but under the state law it would increase to $5500. Opponents say big donors could sway elections.

But, supporters of the repeal contend the limits don’t work anyway, because people can give money to independent expenditure committees which support candidates without directly giving to them.

Nancy Lindholm, the CEO of the West Ventura County Business Alliance, thinks increasing the limits would actually give voters a better picture of who’s actually donating money.

"The current campaign limits restricting limits of more than $750 per election promote the use of independent expenditure campaigns", said Lindholm. "Those campaigns actually make donors less visible to the voting public."

Supervisor Jeff Gorell said with inflation, since the original ordinance was passed in 2003, the $750 cap is no longer realistic.

At the proposal’s first hearing Tuesday, it was a close 3-2 preliminary vote to repeal it. Supervisors Gorrell, Parvin, and Kelly Long voted to remove it.

The controversial issue returns to the board for a second hearing, and a final vote March 28. But, unless one of those three supervisors changes their vote, it appears the two decade old campaign finance reform ordinance will be repealed.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.