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Ethics Commission to Determine New Political Donation Limits

The city of San Diego's Ethics Commission is looking at setting new limits on donations by political parties for municipal elections, in response to a Superior Court ruling earlier this year, the panel's executive director said today.

The limits are part of a number of suggested changes to campaign financing laws that could be proposed to the City Council by the end of summer, Stacey Fulhorst told the council's Rules Committee. Some stem from the court ruling, while others have been suggested by the public, she said.

Among other things, the court invalidated the city's $1,000 limit on contributions by political parties to campaigns for elective office or propositions. The upshot, Fulhorst said, is that the parties can give candidates an unlimited amount of funds in this election year, as long as the source of the money -- the donors to the party -- respect the city's individual contribution limit of $500.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald said the ruling left the city's election code with "a loophole -- in this case, a big one."

The issue needs to be addressed so that a new limit can be in place for the 2014 election cycle, she said, "so that the average person out there who wants to support a candidate or a cause will have a voice, and it won't be drowned out by mass donations from a political party."

Fulhorst said the judge will allow a dollar limit on political party donations as long as the city can demonstrate that it has balanced the need for people to participate in the political process via their contributions, and the need to prevent parties from circumventing rules on individual giving.

The ruling did not suggest a limit, she said.

"As a matter of fact, the court went so far in its order as to say that it has no preconceived idea of what that number should be," Fulhorst said.

The parties could also be asked to list all of the donations that are the source of money given to candidates, so that the restrictions cannot be circumvented by breaking up large contributions into smaller amounts that currently do not need to be reported.

Fulhorst was asked to provide an update on the key proposals in two months.

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