The Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 20th was the weirdest I’ve been to in a long time. First, during a Public Comment period for Item 1.7 on the agenda, Patrick Newman, a well know advocate for Chico’s homeless citizens, was interrupted by Councilor Andrew Coolidge, who, citing a city code, accused Newman of verbally attacking the Mayor. Newman responded that his comments were not his own but were actually a quote of the Mayor’s himself in an E-R article. When Newman attempted to continue with his comments, Mayor Morgan cut him off by saying his comment time was up even though some of his 3 minutes were taken up by Coolidge’s interruption. When Newman ignored the Mayor and tried to finish his comments, the Mayor got ticked off, shut Newman’s microphone off, got up out of his chair and directed Police Chief O’Brien to, presumably, throw Mr. Newman out of the council chambers. Mr. Newman then turned away from the podium, faced the audience and finished his last few words without a microphone. Finally, Mayor Morgan got his wits about him and, instead of throwing Mr. Newman out, called for a 5 minute break.
I’m not sure why council member Randall Stone got up too, but it appeared as if he was ready to help Mayor Morgan and the police chief physically remove Mr. Newman from the council chambers. It all happened so fast I was only able to get the one photo below. But the look on Police Chief O’Brien’s face when he was called on by the Mayor to oust Newman, was one clearly of reluctance. And this was only Item 1.7 on the agenda.
Below is the link to the council meeting video and to Patrick Newman’s comments. He’s at 58:24/4:16:12 on the video.
The next weird thing that happened was during Item 4.6, Campaign Contribution Limits. There were 29 speakers during the Public Comment period on this little gem. All 29 spoke against Mayor Sean Morgan’s idea to raise the limit a person can contribute to a Chico City Council candidate from $500 to $1,000. A few people even suggested that the amount should be lowered instead of raised because who can afford the $500 that’s allowed now? After the Public Comment time was over Mayor Morgan and his conservative Republican cohorts (Fillmer, Sorensen, Coolidge) wanted to vote on the item right away because all 3 are up for re-election in 2018. Progressive council members Karl Ory, Ann Schwab and Randall Stone, knowing they couldn’t out vote the conservative majority, proposed a couple of “Substitute Motions” that would at least dilute the obvious detrimental affects to our local democracy by asking to 1) put the issue to the voters in the General Election in 2018 and 2) that the results of the election would not take affect until 2020. That’s when Mayor Morgan and his cohorts descended into a muddle and couldn’t figure out what to do next. They knew that if they didn’t vote for the progressives’ compromise they’d expose their actual indifference to what the public wanted. But I have news for them: We already knew that.
Here’s a link to Item 4.6, Campaign Contributions on the council meeting video. It’s at 2:22.42 on the video.
Professor Diana Dwyre’s letter to the Chico City Council:
I read in last week’s News and Review that Chico City Council Member [Mayor] Sean Morgan is asking the Council to consider abolishing all limits on the amount that can be contributed directly to a candidate for the City Council (“Council Talks Campaign Cash,” May 18, 2017). This proposal puts Council Member Morgan far outside the mainstream of judicial and legislative decisions that govern our modern campaign finance system, and its adoption would remove an important means for combating corruption in our local politics.
A large majority of both conservative and liberal Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have long held that limits on direct contributions to candidates are necessary to combat quid pro quo corruption, or bribery of elected officials. In the landmark 1976 Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo, the Court’s majority embraced the idea that restrictions on campaign spending are unconstitutional violations of First Amendment free speech rights, and the Justices also asserted the need for contribution limits and disclosure of campaign finance activity: “. . . the major evil associated with rapidly increasing campaign expenditures is the danger of candidate dependence on large contributions. The interest in alleviating the corrupting influence of large contributions is served by . . . contribution limitations and disclosure provisions” (Buckley v. Valeo 424 U.S. 1 1976). The Supreme Court has since repeatedly reinforced the importance of limiting contributions to candidates to prevent corruption, or even the appearance of corruption.
Contribution limits help insure elected officials rely on a large number of people rather than a small number of big-money contributors to whom an officeholder may feel beholden. Contribution limits thus encourage lawmakers to be responsive to their constituents rather than to their financial backers. Chico is one of the few cities in California with contribution limits for City Council candidates. Let’s not undermine our system of effective campaign finance regulation by abolishing those limits. I urge all Chico City Council members to retain the current $500 contribution limit for City Council candidates and to consider indexing the limit to inflation to keep pace with the rising costs of communicating with voters. Moreover, I encourage our state lawmakers to support Assembly Bill 1089 to establish contribution limits for all local elections in California up to the same level as Assembly and Senate elections—$4,400 per contributor, per election. This is far more than is needed to run an effective campaign for the Chico City Council, and our local Council Members should set our contribution limit much lower.
Diana Dwyre, PhD
Professor of Political Science
California State University, Chico