All seemed back to normal this week between Mayor Yellow Jacket and Councilmember Jim "MadDog" Madaffer. The mayor grinned while presenting a smiling Madaffer a lapel pin commemorating his 10th year working for the city of San Diego. They even shook hands.
Why is this news? Well, things weren't so fuzzy warm last week between the usually compatible Republicans. Traditionally, the mayor is Starsky to Madaffer's Hutch, two peas in a political pod.
But the two bedfellows got into a bit of scrap during last week's Rules Committee meeting when the hour was running late and the topic was reforming the city's campaign laws, otherwise known as the Election Campaign Control Ordinance. Since creation of the Ethics Commission (which must enforce the ordinance), attempts have been made to bring the law up to date.
There are lots of ideas floating around about just how to do that, and some of that discussion centers on whether it would be wise to bring the local laws more in line with the state's Political Reform Act, which was established nearly 30 years ago and is administered by the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento.
Long story short, the Ethics Commission has been attempting to retool the local laws for several months now, and the commission had come to the Rules Committee for direction. The Rules Committee is made up of council members and headed by the Mayor, who's known as quite an accomplished timekeeper. One unwritten rule is that Rules meetings should not run longer than noon. Last week was no exception.
After a lengthy presentation by staff and several comments by members of the public, some of whom are still concerned about local politicians creating their own campaign laws, Mayor Yellow Jacket seemed most interested in being assured that any new laws won't take effect until after his re-election effort next year.
City attorneys did confirm that any changes in election codes wouldn't be effective until Jan. 1, 2005. That seemed to kick the mayor into delay mode. Here's the conversation:
YELLOW JACKET: We're at five minutes to 12. We've had public testimony. We've had this report. We clearly can't take action on this today. Do you want to just hold your comments until...
MADDOG: No, I don't.
YJ: ... next time?
MD: I really think we should take some action today, your honor. I'd like to offer something...
YJ: Well, I just want to point out to you I need to leave at 12 o'clock today.
MD: So do I.
YJ: So, Mr. Madaffer, we do have five minutes.
MD: Alright. Well I'm sorry we only have five minutes, but I think this is a real serious issue and I think the Ethics Commission's putting in a lot of time on this and I think they would like some direction from this committee. I guess we can wait till the middle of January, but it's just continuing not to move.
Madaffer then proceeded to read a statement, on the advice of legal counsel, that he's read the city attorney's and FPPC's reports on conflicts of interest when talking about local election laws. He also acknowledges a personal campaign debt of $5,000 from his 2000 election and that he will decline to accept contributions in the future that exceed the city's current $250 limit for individuals, even if the council decides to raise that limit.
Madaffer went on to describe the city's current campaign finance laws as "flawed" and "unrepairable" and suggested that the city scrap the current ordinance and instead adopt a modified version of the less-stringent state campaign laws.
He also proposed tossing out any future consideration of public financing for local campaigns but require electronic filing of campaign statements so the public has more immediate access to a candidate's financial dealings.
Regarding public financing, Madaffer said police and fire priorities make public funding of campaigns unlikely for the foreseeable future. "We just don't have the money to play this political finance game," he explained.
Madaffer then made a motion to ask the Ethics Commission to consider whether campaign contribution limits should be raised, whether voluntary spending limits should be invoked, and whether the commission wants to adopt a so-called 90-day rule to pay off campaign expenses, including "win bonuses" paid to consultants.
MD: So, your honor, I know you wanted to perhaps consider this in the future, but I think that it's just been lagging for a year here. I would like to see us move forward
YJ: With all due respect to Mr. Madaffer, to his position, I couldn't disagree with it more that we need to decide this in five minutes.... The city attorney asked us to defer action on it for 60 days. I mean, we haven't been dragging our feet. This is the first time we could put it on! I mean, that's ridiculous that we've been dragging our feet. I take offense at that.
MD: It wasn't directed at you. It was just saying that this is an issue that I'm hearing feedback from the commissioners that they would like to get this thing done.
YJ: The city attorney asked us to refer it to the FPPC. I mean, their report came out in August, I think. So we had it scheduled, Mr. Madaffer, first thing in the fall and the city attorney pulled it off so we could refer it to the FPPC. What do you mean we're dragging our feet?
More discussion ensued, until it was made clear that this discussion will resume in January.
MD: That's fine. And, your honor, I never said that I thought you were dragging your feet. I'm talking about the collective "we' as a city.
Well, indeed. Happy 10th, MadDog.Tips for the poor: spincycle@SDcitybeat.com.