Fountain Valley raises campaign contribution limit to adjust for inflation

Fountain Valley City Council candidates from the last election cycle pose after a forum in September 2022.
The Fountain Valley City Council approved an ordinance raising the campaign contribution limit from $500 to $1,372 to adjust for inflation. Above, Fountain Valley City Council candidates from the last election cycle pose following a forum in September 2022.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Fountain Valley will increase its campaign contribution limit for the first time in more than 35 years.

Since 1986, Fountain Valley had set its own limit on campaign contributions at $500. An ordinance brought before the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting raised the ceiling to $1,372 to adjust for inflation.

Council members approved the ordinance by a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Kim Constantine and Councilman Patrick Harper dissenting.

A couple of residents expressed concerns about greater money in campaigns influencing decisions on the council, as well as deciding elections through name recognition.

Mayor Pro Tem Glenn Grandis said new state legislation provides protection against such concerns. State Senate Bill 1439, which went into effect at the start of the calendar year, provides protection from that possibility.

“A law went into effect Jan. 1 that says … if a council member receives a contribution of [more than] $250, that council member must recuse [themselves], and must actually report the fact that they received that, for a 12-month period after the contribution,” Colin Burns, legal counsel for the city, said. “And [they] cannot accept a contribution 12 months before the council member knows that they have whoever the donor is coming before council.

“There’s very strict rules that completely take away the ability to act on a donor’s project issue, whatever it is, if they donated [more than] $250.”

The state limit for campaign contributions for cities that have not set their own limits is $5,500 for a person, small contributor committee or political party.

“I think most of us will not accept donations from anything that could potentially be brought before us,” Grandis said. “Second, more importantly, any developer now will not donate to any of our campaigns that has a project that will come before us because they know we can’t vote on it, so the protection wasn’t there before. Now the protection is there.”

Harper was willing to boost the city’s campaign contribution allowance to $1,000, making a motion for that amount that did not get seconded by the panel.

Constantine wanted the number to remain the same, saying, “We don’t need big money in the city. To people, $500 is a lot of money.”

Inflation has greatly impacted the purchasing power of the dollar. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the value of one dollar in 1986 — when the city’s campaign contribution limit was enacted — is equivalent to $2.77 presently.

The ability for candidates to run a competitive political campaign was a consideration. Councilman Jim Cunneen, the newest member of the dais, read into the record an invoice for campaign printing to show how costs have gone up to reach the voters.

“Just to print a 6½-by-9-inch card to go to the entire city, which was 19,239 homes, that cost was $5,421,” Cunneen said. “That’s just one small mailer, one time.”

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