Flip-Flop Prompts Revise of Poway Election Law

Times Staff Writer

Two former Poway City Council members will never know for sure. But if they had not asked the city attorney for advice, they might still be sitting on the council.

In the 1986 election campaign, incumbents Mary Shepardson, Linda Oravec and Carl Kruse wanted to mail out a joint campaign flyer. They asked City Atty. Steve Eckis if it was legal to combine their campaign funds.

Eckis' advice to the candidates was not to make the joint mailing. They didn't.

Two other candidates did not bother to ask for the city attorney's advice and sent out a combined mailing. Those two candidates--Linda Brannon and Don Higginson--won, unseating Shepardson and Oravec. Kruse was reelected.

When the legality of the joint mailing was challenged by supporters of the incumbents, Eckis reversed his position and said the financing scheme was valid.

The difference, Eckis said, was that, in giving advice to the candidates, he studied the ordinance briefly. In giving his opinion on the challenge, Eckis conducted "extensive research" into Poway's law and other election laws. Poway's law, he determined, is enforceable, but it is also vague.

The challenge by supporters of the incumbent candidates was one of two made before the election. The first, made by supporters of Brannon and Higginson, was against a mailing for the three incumbents that was paid for by Mayor Bruce Tarzy. That challenge also was denied.

Revision Sought

In light of the 1986 election, in which an unprecedented $63,000 was spent by the candidates, the City Council is now seeking to revise its confusing campaign contribution law.

"The proposals (to amend the law) are designed to clean up the ordinance so that it's clear," Brannon said.

Special Committee Spending

Another potential change in the law could affect significant expenditures by special committees such as a Building Industry Assn. group that ran an independent telephone bank in support of candidates it endorsed.

Although Poway's election law limits donations by individuals to $100 per candidate per election, the expenditures of such special committees have no limit and need not be reported to the city clerk.

Expenditures made independently and without the knowledge of candidates are not counted as campaign contributions. Eckis believes that one of the revisions of the current law will put the fund-raising efforts--if not the expenditures--of such committees under Poway's $100-per-person limit.

Committees' Effect

The effect of special committees is hard to determine, because, since they function independently of candidates, they are less regulated. In the last election, the Building Industry Assn. endorsed Brannon and Higginson.

Brannon raised more than $30,000, according to her campaign statements. Higginson raised more than $15,000. Their combined fund raising, which also included personal loans, amounted to more than 70% of the total raised by all 13 candidates.

The next highest amount, $6,804, was raised by Kruse.

In terms of fund raising, the 1986 election differed markedly from the 1984 election in Poway, when only four candidates ran and the total campaign contributions were only $10,000, Councilman Bob Emery said.

Emery says the proposed election law changes are not likely to end big spending in campaigns. But the modifications, which include a limit of $500 per person on total contributions to all candidates, may at least reduce spending, he said.

Eckis expects to have the revised law ready for the City Council by the end of May.

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