Downey council limits election spending, begrudgingly agrees to $1.28 million payment to state

DOWNEY – With some members calling for even stricter rules, the City Council on Tuesday voted 5-0 in favor of new campaign finance limits.

Since the issue first came up in December, the council and the city attorney spent months crafting a law that would hold up in court but would still limit fund raising.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” Mayor Luis Marquez said.  “For us to be here is a big moment for the city of Downey.”

In districts one through four, candidates who agree to spend less than $30,000 would be able to accept individual contributions of up to $1,500. Those who want to spend more than $30,000 could only accept $1,000 from individual donors.

In the fifth at-large district, the voluntary expenditure limit would be $50,000, which would allow the candidate to accept $2,000 per donor. If the candidate wanted to raise more than $50,000 he or she could accept donations up to $1,500.

Councilman Mario Guerra wanted harsher rules, but he was happy the council came up with something.

“I don’t think we have it far enough,”he said. “But I think it’s a good starting point.”

The issue was brought up by Councilman David Gafin, who said he feared a well-funded group outside Downey could come in and influence elections.

City Attorney Yvette Abich Garcia said the California Supreme Court does not allow a hard cap on campaign spending, but the court has accepted limits on donations, saying that limiting donations limits the chance for corruption.

Also on Tuesday the council voted 5-0 to buy into a program that allows cities to continue operating their redevelopment agencies.

Gov. Jerry Brown has called for abolishing the agencies, which capture property tax into a city account used to redevelop blighted areas.  But the legislation on the issue is tied up in court. Meanwhile, cities are hurrying to take legal steps that would allow them to keep current redevelopment projects on track.

City officials feared that Downey would lose its ability to fund redevelopment projects that are underway, such as The View apartment complex at the site of the old Verizon building.

All members of the council said they felt like the city was backed into a corner and had to pay the $1.28 million fee to the state.

“I think it sucks,” Gafin said.

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