City Council could modify Berkeley’s election reform act

The Berkeley City Council will consider a referendum Tuesday that would modify campaign contribution transparency guidelines.

The recommendation, which would modify the 1974 Berkeley Election Reform Act, comes to the council after it was approved by Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission in January and is made up of six amendments. Among the proposed changes is a requirement that campaign contributions of more than $250 be included in campaign literature mailed to residents and that campaign donor information could be posted online instead of just in newspapers.

At its meeting Tuesday evening, the council will hold a public forum and then vote on whether to pass any or all of the six proposed amendments. According to Steve Wollmer, chair of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission, the proposed changes would provide more information about elections and campaign contributors.

“When people get a piece of literature in the mail they know who paid for it,” Wollmer said. “We are going to require disclosure where it is feasible.”

Currently, the city does not require that candidates include donor information on campaign materials, Wollmer said.  He said he thinks that limited newspaper circulation and the restricted audience offered by posting in public spaces means that in the current situation, not enough people are able to view the contribution information.

The changes to the disclosure requirement would put this information in literature mailed to voters. Wollmer said it would also benefit other candidates to know where campaign contributions are going without having to search the city database for the information, which is the current procedure.

One of the amendments would allow the commission to make adjustments to how information is presented through electronic media without having to repeatedly return to the council for approval. Another one of the amendments would require that any expenditure of $1000 or more be reported within 24 hours to the city clerk during the 40 days preceding the election.

Councilmember Max Anderson said he is generally in favor of the amendments and does not see any profound impact the changes would have on candidates in future campaigns.

“I don’t see any profound impact with using the internet instead of newspapers to disclose financial information,” Anderson said. “To have better control over the campaigns in the last 40 days so other campaigns know what is going on is generally a good thing.”