By KAREN VELIE
Amid a partisan divide, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is in line to set campaign limits at $25,000, raising questions over which party historically garners the largest donations.
In the past, there were no limits on campaign contributions for county races. Then last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation limiting campaign contributions to local candidates to $4,700 in cities and counties that do not have their own contribution limits. Those limits go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
While the state legislation limits campaign contributions, it allows unlimited independent expenditures — advertising spending from groups not working with the candidate — creating what some consider an unfair playing field.
In response, Supervisor John Peschong made a motion to set a campaign contribution limit of $25,000 for county races.
Shortly afterwards, Tribune contributor and political consultant Tom Fulks accused Peschong of unethical behavior, a sentiment the Tribune repeated in an editorial that asks the supervisors to further limit the donations to halt the corrupting influence of large donations, while chastising conservative supervisors.
But who in the past has collected the big money donations from special interest?
During the 2020 election for SLO County Supervisor District 5, candidate Ellen Beraud, a Democrat, received more than $46,700 from donors affiliated with two marijuana businesses and more than $20,000 for proponents of a North County water district.
Beraud had nine donations over $5,000, the largest for $23,000.
Her opponent, SLO County Supervisor Debbie Arnold, a Republican, had two donations over $5,000, the largest for $11,000.
In the 2020 battle between incumbent Peschong and his challenger Stephanie Shakofsky for the District 1 supervisor seat, there were no donations over $5,000.
During the 2018 election, Fulks was involved in several campaigns, including the race for the District 4 supervisor seat between incumbent Lynn Compton, a Republican, and newcomer Jimmy Paulding, a Democrat.
Paulding had two donors who gave him more than $5,000, the largest contributed $45,000. Compton had three, with one donor contributing $15,227.
While in favor of campaign finance reform, government watchdog Mike Brown said he is not in favor of the unequitable limits set by the state.
“I am for campaign finance reform, but until we repair the problem with independent expenditure committees, it will not work,” Brown said. “In other words, it is a trick.”
On Oct. 20, the supervisors voted 3-1 to limit campaign donations to $25,000 per contributor, with Supervisor Bruce Gibson dissenting. Before the ordinance becomes law, it requires a second vote to approve, which is scheduled for Nov. 20 at 8 a.m.