The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 on Friday to set campaign contribution limits at $25,000, with Supervisor Bruce Gibson dissenting.
Hundreds of community members called in asking that the county go with an forthcoming state limit of $4,700. Opponents of the $25,000 ceiling voiced concerns that the higher limit would lead to corruption. Others argued that the county should not make a decision until a replacement for deceased Supervisor Adam Hill is seated.
Government watchdog Mike Brown said he is against limiting campaign donations while permitting unlimited independent expenditures — advertising spending from groups not working with candidate — because it will create an unfair playing field. Brown wanted to bar donations from people or businesses contracted with the county.
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.
Supervisor John Peschong wants local control. He noted that while Gov. Newsom signed the legislation limiting contributions for local races that do not set their own limits, the campaign contribution limit for his office is $31,000. Peschong also voiced concerns about independent expenditures overwhelming elections.
Gibson said 700 comments and letters supported lower contribution limits, while only one speaker was in favor of the $25,000 limit. Evidence, Gibson said, that supervisors Peschong, Arnold and Compton appear to be the only three people in the county in favor of the higher limit.
Rebutting Gibson, Compton noted that opponents of the $25,000 limit sent out a call for action, which requested recipients return a form letter objecting to the $25,000 limit or call in, and that the speakers were not reflective of the entire community.
In response to concerns that the board should not take a vote with an empty supervisor seat, Compton said this was the last meeting in which the county can assert local concern.
Gibson also argued against having the SLO County District Attorney’s Office enforce the limits, while questioning District Attorney Dan Dow’s ethics. Peschong, Arnold and Compton said Gibson’s accusations were unfounded, and that Dow has displayed a high level of integrity while in office.