Home Brentwood Brentwood Approves Local Campaign Contribution Limit

Brentwood Approves Local Campaign Contribution Limit

by ECT

On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council approved two ordinances which establish a campaign contributions limit for candidates running for city elected office. They were approved in a 4-0 vote.

Under an “urgency ordinance” and a “non-urgency ordinance” and would limit campaign contributions to $500 per person, per election for a candidate running for elected office. The city will now allocate $25k to retain a third-party investigator to ensure enforcement of the ordinance. The full cost will depend on any potential violations of the ordinance or potential complaints filed with the City alleging such violations.

Based on federal law, political committees (PACs) that are not controlled by candidates can still spend unlimited money on behalf of a candidate or against a candidate. Political candidates can also loan/contribute unlimited funds to their own campaign.

This item was brought forward after council discussion at June 14 meeting (see recap) by councilmembers Jovita Mendoza and Karen Rarey citing they wanted a level playing field.

In the past election, Mayor Joel Bryant accepted a $20k donation from Sierra Pacific Properties (owned by Seeno). He also received $1,500 from Tim Grayson for Assembly 2020. Meanwhile, Indrani Golden, a council candidate for District 3, received an accepted a $5k contribution from Sierra Pacific Properties.

On Tuesday, Brentwood City Attorney Damien Brower explained that state law permits cities to issue their own campaign limits (see list below) or default to state law of $4,900. He noted there were two ordinances before the council including an urgency ordinance that would apply when nomination period opens for District 2 and 4 on July 18. The second ordinance is a non-urgency (Aug 26) which places a $500 per person per candidate.

He also shared this does not apply to contributions made to political committees and not controlled by candidates (PACs),

Brower further explained the FPPC only enforces items that align with them and would not enforce the lower numbers that Brentwood is proposing, thus they needed a third-party investigator to ensure enforcement of the ordinance—staff proposed setting aside up to $25k for this election circle.

Councilmember Karen Rarey asked if a husband and wife both make a donation of $500, are they able to make it out of the same checking account. Staff said “yes” based on state law.

Councilmember Susannah Meyer asked if any city who created their own campaign limits have any problems with this.

Brower said he did not have an answer because staff had been focused on getting an ordinance in place given the deadlines and have not surveyed the cities. But said the Supreme Court has been clear they can’t limit people from donating to political action committees (PAC’s).

“We tried to look at what was out there and what was legally defensible,” explained Brower. “This is our first go with this and we can see what worked and what didn’t. We can come back to you.”

He also suggests when they are done with this election, they come back and look at the enforcement authority. Staff would need to go back and talk with FPPC if they can do it and what they would charge or what their process is—perhaps even an RFP for future elections. But cited there was not enough time to put things in place.

“We are limited by the opening of the nomination period on July 18,” said Brower.

Meyer asked about recalls and if this would still apply in which Brower said it would not apply but candidates who run for the open seat, it would count.

Meyer asked what occurs if a person donates more than the allowed amount and if a candidate just return a check or is the contributor also in violation and if there is a penalty.

Brower said the penalty applies to both the contributor and the candidate and both could be held for violating the section—if a donation is accepted into the campaign trust, then the campaign treasurer has 10 days to report it to the city clerk and explain what happened. If that doesn’t happen, then they need to forfeit that amount and it goes to the city and could face enforcement authorities.

Meyer also asked about reporting and what that process is.

Brower responded someone should make a claim to the city clerks office, including forms and specifics. Brower said the complaint form is not yet created but someone filing a complaint would sign it under the penalty of perjury—the complaints would not be anonymous.

During public comments Rod Flohr said he supported this item and thought $500 was a “generous” amount to a campaign stating around here all one needed was yard signs, door hangers and foot work.

During council discussion, Councilmember Jovita Mendoza said it was something they needed and have hearing it from residents.

“I did some research and those that don’t want campaign funding limits are PACs because they don’t want to do all the paperwork because there is so many disclosures,” stated Mendoza. “PAC’s don’t want limits but most people do.”

She also cited PEW research which said 77% of people want campaign limits. She also said campaign limits do not help incumbents but rather it creates more competitive elections and allows more people to run.

“I don’t buy that its for the incumbents,” said Mendoza. “I would love to see campaign finance limits and I think $500 is good. I would have gone lower, but $500 is good.”

Councilmember Karen Rarey said a majority of donations made into candidates campaigns they are mostly $100 to $250 and sometimes $500 because that is what local residents can afford to do.

“If we can set a campaign limit to $500 and that’s $1,000 per couple, then it does even out the playing field,” said Rarey who noted she didn’t see how this would help the incumbents because everyone is on an even playing field. “It should make it easier for people to run because they don’t have to find those huge bucks because the candidate next to them is going to have the same amount.”

No other comments were made by Mayor Bryant or councilmember Meyer.

The council approved both ordinances for the campaign contribution limit at $500 in a 4-0 vote with Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez absent.

Summary of the proposed ordinances

The ordinances would impose a $500 per person, per election limit on contributions to a candidate for City elective office, which includes the mayor and four city councilmembers. The new contribution limit would only apply to contributions made after the ordinances go into effect. The ordinances make clear that a person can contribute up to $500 to a candidate after the effective date of the ordinances even if they gave to that same candidate up to the State’s current default contribution limit before the effective date.

Following this upcoming election cycle, the limit would apply for any contribution or contributions from a single source, regardless of when the contribution(s) are made. For example, if a person made a $300 contribution to a candidate two years before the relevant election, that person could only give an additional $200 to the candidate for that election, regardless of when they made the subsequent contribution.

Candidate committees versus other political committees, and candidate self donations

The United States Supreme Court has generally upheld limits on contributions to candidates, but not to other types of political committees that are not controlled by candidates. Thus, the Court has struck down limits on contributions to independent expenditure committees, ballot measure committees, and general-purpose committees (PACs) that are not controlled by candidates. In addition, the Court has held that a candidate can loan or contribute unlimited amounts to their own campaign because such activity – contributing to one’s own campaign – does not involve the possibility of corruption. The attached ordinances adhere to these constitutional constraints.

Under Assembly Bill 571 which became law in January 2021, it gave cities the discretion to either set contribution limits of their own choosing (including having no limits on contributions) or default to the State’s contribution limit. Because Brentwood has not adopted a different contribution limit, the current State default limit of $4,900 per election per source applies in the City. Under State law, the default contribution limit increases every two years to account for inflation.

A look at campaign donation limits from other cities across California according to the FPPC.

  • $4,400: City of Fresno (limits committee donations to $8,800)
  • $2,500: City of Richmond
  • $2,000: City of Vacaville (at large candidate)
  • $1,554: City of Hayward
  • $1,000: City of San Diego (Mayor’s Race) – Council is $500 limit
  • $1,000: City of Turlock (per election cycle)
  • $1,000: City of Vacaville (by district)
  • $760: Dana Point
  • $500: City of Burlingame
  • $500: City of Chico (per election)
  • $500: City of Dublin
  • $500: City of Fremont
  • $500: City of Healdsburg
  • $500: City of Merced or $2,000 per election.
  • $500: City of Milpitas
  • $500: City of Monterey
  • $500: City of Pinole (note – in-kind contributions of $1k per person or $2k by political committee
  • $500: City of Pleasant Hill or $2,000 from a political committee
    Note – in-kind contributions of $1k per person or $2k by political committee.
  • $500: City of Roseville or $250 if you don’t accept voluntary campaign limits.
  • $500: City of Santa Rosa
  • $500: City of Sausalito
  • $400: City of Monterey
  • $400: City of Navoto
  • $300: City of Irvine
  • $250: Agoura Hills
  • $250: City of Benicia
  • $250: West Sacramento
  • $150: City of Folsom
  • $125: City of Beverely Hills (This limit increases to $450 if the candidate agrees to spend $80,000 or less.)

More Notes:

  • On March 17, 2021, the City of Bakerfield lifted its $4,700 cap and now have no campaign contribution limits.
  • On June 20, 2020, City of Monterey established a $0.60 per resident meaning campaigns could voluntarily spend no more than $36,000 per election.
  • On July 24, 2017, city of Livermore abolished its campaign limits for elections.  Prior to this, the limit was $250.  At this time, the Mayor stated lifting the campaign limits leveled the playing field.
  • On Nov. 8, 2016, the City Council of Cupertino limited council spending on elections to $33,000.

You may also like


Bob Jul 13, 2022 - 11:50 am

Hey Rod, a mouse could win a campaign to stop growth with the NIMBY mentality in the city. Not much effort there. Go run a real campaign, you would get smoked.

Jessica Luck Jul 13, 2022 - 2:38 pm

Good to see the council is as ignorant as ever. You don’t need to hire an investigator, you have the FPPC who does that for you. Brentwood City Council 3 of the 5 should be called dumb, dumber and the DUMBEST.

Joey Munson Jul 13, 2022 - 2:47 pm

Nice to see this city council focusing on what is important. NOT! mendoza and rarey know this favors incumbents and they lied during the meeting to ram this through after staff admitted they didn’t have time to put together all the details paperwork and fact finding. This is another example of horrible leadership by the brentwood city council. Are voters watching this clown show in action?

Comments are closed.