Come clean on campaigns

Chico City Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan’s call for local campaign fund-raising reform was hijacked and turned on its head last week by the very councilmembers who most benefit from the type of contribution in question.

For the past dozen years, local developers have given heartily to candidates they think will be most favorable toward developers’ interests. These contributions almost always come in at the maximum amount currently set by city ordinance—$1,000. While we believe developers truly do give money to those candidates they see as like minded, the public perception of payoff is there.

Nguyen-Tan’s proposal was to require that councilmembers excuse themselves from the proceedings when a campaign contributor who’d contributed $500 or more to that member had business before the council. But last week, before Nguyen-Tan’s proposal could be discussed, the conservative minority made a motion to lower the maximum individual contribution to a council candidate to $500. That was not on the agenda and did not address Nguyen-Tan’s concerns, yet that is what the council did.

The same thing happened last year when finance reform came before the council. The then-conservative majority steered the discussion and action away from big campaign donations and perverted that goal into an ordinance that requires every donation, right down to a dollar, to be declared. That was not the intent.

Nguyen-Tan’s newest proposal is that councilmembers simply disclose the donation whenever a contributor who’s given $250 or more is before the council. We support this effort to require councilmembers to declare possible conflicts of interest. In politics, public perception is everything.