“All is fair in love and politics.” No more in Del Mar politics. The City Council considered on Feb. 22nd and March 5th upgrades to our local election codes to meet new state standards and address issues surrounding fair campaign practices that arose during the 2016 election cycle. In addition to new state rules, candidates for local office or campaign committees for ballot measures are expected to sign a pledge to adhere to new Council Policy 108. The pledge includes several “shall nots” summarized here:
1. No last minute campaign materials released the last two days before the election.
2. No use of surrogates by candidates to provide misleading information.
3. Candidates will take personal responsibility to fact check campaign materials.
4. Candidates will disavow any material known to be false or misleading.
5. No embellishment/exaggeration in campaign material.
6. No use of personal slurs or innuendoes about other candidates.
7. No false claims, and a pledge to correct the record if one is discovered.
Individual contributions of $75 or more must be reported and the candidate-controlled committee cannot gather more than $2000 for each election from the same political party, although candidates can exceed this limit using their own funds or donations from individuals. Individuals can now donate $200 per candidate/issue rather than the former $100 limit. Every form of candidate communication (signs, email, website, Facebook, Twitter, mailers, flyers, door hangers, etc.) must give the name and address of the person or committee responsible for the campaign literature. This requirement comes from the new state law and is incorporated into the Del Mar ordinance. A fine of not more than $1000 will be levied against candidates who violate this provision. The circulation of anonymous election material that became common during the 2016 campaign season can now be a source of city revenue if it should continue.
The first hearing of the ordinance with these items was approved at the March 5th Council meeting, and the ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the second reading on March 19th.
Enforcement of these new state and local regulations is assigned to a Special Counsel, a person appointed by the City Council. Investigations will be triggered either by citizen complaints or direct observation of questionable practices by the Special Counsel. The Special Counsel is not well defined in the ordinance, but it appears that independence from the City Council and City Attorney will be required. Nothing appears to preclude a Del Mar resident from assuming the position, but a legal background and full understanding of the California Fair Political Practices Commission rules should be essential qualifications.
The lack of civility and the promotion of alternative “facts” that characterize national politics have no place in Del Mar. These new rules will only make a difference if all candidates actually follow them and the enforcement actions by the Special Counsel penalize those who break the rules. An informed electorate can only make the best choice when truth and transparency prevail.