Future Aliso Viejo City Council candidates will not be allowed to receive contributions greater than $1,000 from a single contributor per election.

In a move that several other Orange County cities have already made, the City Council voted 4-1 in October to give final approval to an ordinance lowering campaign contribution limits from the default state cap of $4,900 per contributor in a single election. 

Councilmember Mike Munzing cast the dissenting vote, saying during the public hearing that he has never seen this as an issue, but has not elaborated further. With the action coming in the middle of an election period, the law will be applicable to the 2024 election cycle. The majority of the council members felt that the lower limit is reasonable and will promote public trust in the government. 

David Burke, the founder and president of the Long Beach-based government watchdog group Citizens Take Action, said that contribution limits improve voter confidence in government.    

“[Limits] make it more difficult for special interests to exert undue influence over elections,” said Burke. Campaigns that are primarily funded by small, individual donations generally promote greater voter trust than campaigns where mostly businesses or unions provide a handful of large contributions, according to Burke. 

Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Collegiate News Service, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Collegiate News Service Editor Vik Jolly at vjolly@voiceofoc.org.

In late 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill implementing the $4,900 local campaign contribution limit for the state, leaving it up to each city’s discretion to set its own limit or default to the state limit, according to an Aliso Viejo city staff report

The City Council decided to go with the default state limit in 2020, revisiting the issue recently. The city has had very few violations of the state contribution limit since its adoption, according to Councilmember Richard Hurt. The decision to lower the limit now stems from the desire to promote transparency and ensure fair elections moving forward, according to the approved ordinance.  

Other cities in Orange County have already established their own contribution limits. Buena Park adopted an ordinance in July 2020 implementing a contribution limit of $4,000 for the purpose of eliminating the possibility of corruption in elections. Also in 2020, Laguna Hills adopted a $1,000 limit. Some cities went with the state’s default limit.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission lists all of the cities in the state that have adopted their own contribution limits. 

Hurt, the council member who brought this item forward for consideration in Aliso Viejo, spoke during the October council meeting on the importance of improving government transparency and on how crucial this ordinance is for building public trust.  

“As times change, we have to adapt too,” he said.

Hurt elaborated in a telephone interview that, “Resident funding of campaigns ensures candidates are engaging with the public and are answerable to the public.”

“[Campaign contributions are] a problem and there should be a thousand dollar limit, which is more than enough,” he said. “Everyone has a right to debate their own ideas and that is democracy.”

Aliso Viejo residents will have a role to play in the enforcement of the ordinance. The limits operate on a complaint basis. Any resident who believes there may have been a violation can file a written complaint directly with the Orange County District Attorney’s office, according to the adoption notice for the ordinance.

Councilmember Dave Harrington assured the rest of the council that the enforcement of the ordinance is not the responsibility of the city staff.

“If they [the District Attorney] choose not to file, that’s their business,” said Harrington. 

The contribution limits would only apply to direct contributions made to the candidate or their controlled committee. The limits would not apply to independent expenditures, ballot measure committees, or committees seeking an officer’s recall, according to a city staff report. 

“While limits cannot single-handedly ensure that elected officials are truly accountable to their constituents, they are an important step in the right direction,” said Burke with Citizens Take Action. 

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