Suggested changes to Longmont’s campaign law

This coming Tuesday May 18th, the Longmont City Council will once again consider changes to the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act (LFCPA).  Here are the suggestions I sent them:
Mayor Baum and members of council,
Unless the council is interested in one sweeping vote to get rid of the LFCPA completely, or accept all of the advised changes from the Election Committee in one vote – I recommend you make individual motions and votes on each recommended change.  Think of it as your own little “line item veto”.

The main point I want to get across about the LFCPA is similar to what I’m proposing to the Airport Advisory Board when it comes to our regulations (specifically the Noise Abatement Procedure):  the further you get away from state and federal standards (in campaign law, that would be state statute, etc – in aviation that would be FAA rules and regulations), the more confusion you will create for candidates, committees, and individuals.  That’s not to say I’m advocating for scrapping the LFCPA and reverting to state statute, I’m not.  But with slight tweaks and simplification, we could have a useful document.

If nothing remains of the LFCPA, at least keep decriminalization intact.

Contribution limits – The recent election showed that contributions limits are fairly meaningless as more contributions than ever were received by candidates, all within the limits.  This is a pointless “feel good” provision, but if it makes you feel good, keep it.  Do you really want an ordinance with pointless provisions in it?  That, in my opinion, doth not make a good lawmaker.  You should consider increasing the $500 for committees to at least $1,000 or more.  This was proven to be another pointless provision as it just pushed groups into forming their own committee’s and spending far more than $500 each.  This would also alleviate some of the angst amongst those who feel the “little guy” gets hurt with higher limits, as they could pool their resources together and contribute a larger chunk as “other than natural persons”.

Disclosure – accept the change from $20 to $50.

Reporting – Since the current LFCPA is stricter than State Statute, and the fines are steeper than State Statute, this needs to be balanced out somehow with either a) less reporting points, or b) lower dollar amounts for fines, or both.  Also, there was talk of changing what “election cycle” meant, but it’s not depicted in the table you received.  I heard the “election cycle” would basically become “at all times”.  Seriously, do we really want that?

Independent Expenditures – State’s reporting threshold is $1,000, ours is $100, proposed is $250.  I’d suggest $1,000 to match the state, or at the very least $500 so some of you can tell your constituents something to make them/you feel good.  This is another pointless exercise, it doesn’t stop the spending, it just means more reporting.  Try as some might to end spending from outside-of-Longmont sources, it’s just a scare tactic to try to intimidate them from getting involved in our elections.  How did that work out in ’09?  Save some future embarrassment and match the state’s level.

Also, why have a 72, or any hour, limit when the City Clerk’s Office isn’t open 24/7/365?  How about a “business day” amount?  I suggest 5.  The other major glaring problem with this entire provision was brought up in the hearings:  money  spent or obligated can be days (or hours if you prefer) apart, and sometimes money is spent but some or all of the materials may not go out for whatever reason.  So was it “obligated”?  This is the “tree crashing in the woods” argument; did it occur if no one heard/saw it?  In court, the city looked a little silly about this entire provision.

Enforcement – Leave it up to the City Clerk, and possibly an “Election Commission” as spelled out in the City Charter.  The Election Commission at most could function as an advisory board, but definitely not as a quasi-judicial body for all of the reasons brought up in the last several months.  If the LFCPA was trimmed down and simplified, mostly leaning on State Statute, there would be no need for even an advisory board.  If you’re looking to set up a convoluted process in need of a bureaucracy, congratulations, you’ve achieved it with the LFCPA and the Election Committee respectively.  I’d hope you’re not looking to do that.

To give EC members a chance at applying to other advisory boards, I suggest you, a) do not fill current or upcoming vacancies, b) publicly thank Task Force and Election Committee members for their work, and c) dissolve the Election Committee at the conclusion of the changes to the LFCPA.

Sanctions – Some on council have argued that on a percentage basis, some limits for Longmont compared to the State make sense ($1,000 State vs $100 Longmont, etc).  Apparently they don’t feel the same way when it comes to fines, since in most cases Longmont’s fines are multiples of the State’s.  The State fines $50/day for late filings, Longmont’s is $100 for the first day, $200 for the second, $300 for the third, plus the possibility for $400/day for up to 10 days.  This is ridiculous, and opens up the possibilities for unintended violations if individuals/organizations, including those based in Longmont, look towards State Statute for guidance.

While we who pay attention to such things know the LFCPA applies just to municipal elections, this could cause confusion amongst some who may be in or outside of Longmont contributing to a candidate who partially represents Longmont (State or Federal House districts, County Commissioner, etc).  Yes, it is true that ignorance of the law is no excuse or defense, but do you really want to make it more complicated than it has to be?  Frankly, I think some of you do, but that does not make good or coherent policy.

The LFCPA, together with our more than competent City Clerk’s Office and our existing charter take care of Item 7 in the communication you received from the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Election Committee.  I agree with “local control” when it comes to these and other matters, and I believe we’d have that with the changes I’m suggesting – and that the Election Committee and the LFCPA as approved by the previous council, based on its performance in the last election cycle, didn’t enhance the process, but was mostly a lightning rod and harbinger for attention (read: lawsuits) Longmont didn’t want or need.

Don’t delay making the necessary changes.

About Chris Rodriguez

Chris is the editor/publisher of LightningRod Blog - as well as founder/editor of Wrongmont, Longmont Advocate, Vote!Longmont, Longmont Politics, the LightningRod Radio Network, as well as being the original Longmont Examiner. Chris is a writer and talker - whether it be blogs, podcasts, music, or public speaking. When he's not heard on Air Traffic radio, he can be heard on his podcasts or seen in the local paper causing trouble.
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