The City Council has passed an ordinance designed to give voters more timely information about last-minute campaign contributions in city elections.
The new ordinance, spurred by an unprecedented $40,000 contribution from Chevron, USA in the final weeks of the 1992 election, was approved 4-0 by the City Council on Tuesday night. Councilwoman Janet Henke was absent.
“We’re not trying to get people to stop contributing to campaigns,” Councilwoman Helen McKenna-Rahder said. “We want to make it so the public is aware of who is giving. When you have a major corporation putting money in a campaign, there is a reason for it.”
The Chevron contribution to a Whittier political action committee that had endorsed three pro-development council candidates was not disclosed until nearly three months after the April, 1992, election.
Whittier’s new ordinance requires candidates and political organizations to report campaign contributions and expenditures that occurred up to seven days before an election. The information must be filed with the city on the Friday before a Tuesday election.
The stricter disclosure deadline gives voters the weekend to review last-minute campaign contributions and spending, officials said. “The goal is a more informed electorate,” City Clerk Gertrude L. Hill said.
The state requires that the first campaign disclosure statement be filed 40 days before Election Day and that a second disclosure be filed 12 days before the vote. The final state deadline for disclosing campaign contributions of less than $1,000 is nearly three months after an election.
The new ordinance also requires that contributions of more than $100 in the last 16 days be reported to the city clerk within 48 hours. State law requires that contributions of more than $1,000 be reported within 24 hours during the same period.
The new ordinance attempts to close a loophole that had allowed the Whittier committee to delay reporting the Chevron contribution, even though it exceeded $1,000, because the money was not used in the endorsement of a particular candidate. Under the new city ordinance, all organizations active in an election are required to file campaign disclosure statements.
“We’re trying to close the loopholes,” Councilman Allan Zolnekoff said. “We want to make sure that no group or special interest can influence a race financially without the voters knowing about it.”
Local governments are allowed to amend the state campaign laws as long as the changes create more restrictive reporting regulations, state officials said. About 100 cities and 15 counties have approved stricter campaign disclosure laws, said Jeanette Turvill, spokeswoman for the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Whittier officials said they began researching the ordinance after the controversial $40,000 contribution made by Chevron, USA to the Whittier Citizens for Responsible Government, a local political action committee that had endorsed pro-development candidates for the council.
The contribution was made after the final filing deadline before the election.
About $30,000 of the contribution was used to hire a political consultant and pay for an absentee voter and “get out the vote” drive. The rest was returned to Chevron, USA, said John Pollara, chairman of the Whittier citizens group during the 1992 campaign. The literature did not endorse a particular candidate, he said, and state law did not require that the contribution be made public until the end of June.
“We didn’t do anything wrong, we reported (the contribution) when we were supposed to report it,” Pollara said. “We were encouraging people to vote, not telling them who to vote for.”
Still, some candidates and residents cried foul, since the committee had endorsed three candidates who had expressed no opposition to Chevron’s ambitious plans to build hundreds of houses in the undeveloped hills just outside of Whittier. Two of the three candidates lost. The third candidate resigned from the council, without serving, for unrelated reasons.
The two leading vote-getters, Zolnekoff and Michael Sullens, had opposed Chevron’s proposal. They became part of a new council majority that is seeking to limit hillside development.
Community correspondent Ann Griffith contributed to this report.