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San Diego County Supervisors Put Caps On Campaign Spending

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday gave final approval to a plan to establish caps on the amount of money political parties may donate to candidates for county offices.

On a 4-1 vote, the board set limits of $25,000 per district for supervisor races and $50,000 for countywide offices.

"We're not hampering anyone's free speech nor trampling anyone's rights," Supervisor Ron Roberts said. "We are adopting limits that are fair to the parties, fair to the candidates — whether they be in an election Republican versus Democrat or an election Republican versus Republican — and also fair to the public."

For the past several years, there had been no limit on how much political parties can spend on county races. When a federal judge struck down San Diego's $1,000 cap on political contributions some years ago for being too restrictive, the county did away with its own limit, which was the same amount.

The city responded in 2013 by capping political contributions for district races at $10,000, and $20,000 for citywide campaigns. Roberts said city officials performed "a very thorough analysis" and reached an "appropriate balance" between free speech and preventing people from breaking the rules.

Roberts initially proposed similar individual election limits — $10,000 for supervisorial candidates since they're elected by district, and $20,000 for countywide races like sheriff, district attorney, treasurer-tax collector and assessor/recorder/clerk. He later upped the amounts to $25,000 for supervisor races by district and $50,000 for countywide offices, which were ultimately approved.

Supervisor Dave Roberts, the only Democrat on the non-partisan board, called the limits "a step in the right direction."

"We're going to limit the ability of a very few wealthy people from making these multimillion-dollar contributions to try to affect elections," he said.

Supervisor Bill Horn cast the dissenting vote, saying this was not his "first rodeo" with the First Amendment. He said that instead of limiting the amount that a political party could contribute, individual expenditure committees, for which donor records are not made public until after an election, should be done away with.

Former Missouri state Sen. John Loudon, now an Imperial Beach resident, was among several people who spoke out against the limits. He said "any effort to squeeze the balloon of campaign finance one place expands it someplace else," such as political action committees that often are responsible for attack ads.

"Limits limit choice, limit transparency and they breed nasty political attacks and cynicism," he said.

The county's approved limits will be reviewed every two years and adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index.

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