Council tightens contributions

Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan’s campaign contribution reform proposal got unexpected help when the full council voted to lower the maximum campaign donation to a council candidate’s election from $1,000 to $500.

Nguyen-Tan’s initial proposal was to place on the ballot next year a measure asking voters to approve a conflict-of-interest amendment that would preclude a councilmember from voting on any project involving a campaign contributor who had given more than $500 in a previous election cycle.

Councilmember Larry Wahl said he’s learned that putting a measure on next March’s primary ballot would cost the city between $48,000 and $50,000 and so, misunderstanding Nguyen-Tan’s proposal, moved to lower the maximum contribution. The motion passed 7-0. Nguyen-Tan, happy with the new $500 limit, pressed on with his ballot proposal, saying he wanted to lower the conflict-of-interest threshold on a campaign contribution to $250, the current limit to which sitting planning commissioners who ran failed campaigns for council are held.

But Councilmember Dan Herbert balked at the idea, saying it was dangerous and set up a situation where a conniving campaign contributor could set up a council candidate.

“Someone could give a candidate $251 knowing that a matter of personal interest would be coming before the council,” Herbert warned.

Nguyen-Tan said he doubted anyone would engage in such complicated machinations to get a project passed.

Progressives and liberals have long been critical of council elections, noting that the biggest contributors to the conservative candidates are local developers, who often do come before the council with projects that need approval or appeals of Planning Commission decisions.

In the end the council, with Mayor Maureen Kirk expressing uncertainty, voted to move discussion of possibly putting the matter on next fall’s ballot to the Oct. 7 council meeting.