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Cap Set On Donations To San Diego County Candidates

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to tentatively approve caps on the amount of money political parties can donate to candidates for county offices.

Pending a second vote, the limits would be $25,000 for supervisors races by district and $50,000 for countywide offices.

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.

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

"What we're contemplating here relates to both substance and appearance," Roberts said. "The substance is to enact a limit that allows political parties to maintain both their rights of freedom of expression and to help ensure competitive elections. The appearance part comes with providing a reasonable cap that gives the public confidence that political parties cannot dictate opinions to candidates."

Roberts said city officials performed "a very thorough analysis" of the issues and reached an "appropriate balance" between free speech and preventing people from breaking the rules.

He said the limits would be "fair to the parties, fair to the candidates and fair to the voters."

There is no limit on how much political parties can spend on county races.

Supervisor Bill Horn, who cast the dissenting vote, suggested that if the board were to take action, it should postpone the issue until the 2018 election.

"I don't think we should voting here on the dais to limit the next opponent's ability to get elected," Horn said.

Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party, opposed the proposed spending limits. He told the board that, while the proposed limits were well-intentioned, they would not stop the flow of cash, whether through political parties or individual committees, which are not democratically governed or held accountable.

"There's no doubt that large amounts of money will continue to enter our process," Nehring said. "The bigger government is the more people are affected by it, the more people have a reason to get involved."

The proposed campaign contribution limits require a second vote, which is scheduled for Feb. 3. If ultimately approved, the limits would be reviewed every two years and adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index, county attorney Thomas Montgomery said.

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