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Napa County supervisors may put limits on candidate campaign loans
Elections

Napa County supervisors may put limits on candidate campaign loans

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Campaign finance

Napa County supervisors want to keep candidates for county offices from bankrolling their campaigns with huge personal loans.

They want a $10,000 personal loan limit for Board of Supervisors seats, which are done in districts. They want a $20,000 limit for countywide offices such as sheriff and district attorney, given candidates must reach more voters.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to prepare a county law for personal campaign loans for county offices. That follows up on a discussion supervisors had on Jan.26.

“I’m very interested in pursuing this,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.

California recently imposed default caps of $4,900 for campaign contributions and $100,000 for personal loans. However, a county or city can set its own limits either higher or lower.

The Board of Supervisors is debating the matter only for county offices, not for offices of cities within the county.

Dillon didn’t mind the $4,900 contribution cap. But she saw a hole in the new state law for personal loans.

One point of state election laws is that candidates must file papers revealing who contributes to their campaigns. Voters are supposed to have this information before they cast their votes.

But Dillon envisioned this scenario — a candidate loans his or her campaign $98,000 and after the election 20 contributors write $4,900 checks to clear the loan.

“If we’re going to do anything, I think we should have a limit on what someone can loan,” Dillon said at the Jan. 26 meeting.

The task before supervisors last week was deciding what the cap should be. Contra Costa County, population 1.1 million, has a $25,000 limit. San Francisco, population 881,549, has a $15,000 limit for supervisors and $150,000 limit for mayor. San Luis Obispo County, population 283,111, has a $200,000 limit.

Supervisors didn’t spend much time debating the matter for Napa County, population 140,000. They quickly settled on $10,000 for supervisor races and $20,000 for other county races. The penalty for breaking the law could be a fine of up to $5,000, though that wasn’t clear.

Supervisor Ryan Gregory saw an additional penalty.

“If somebody is out fundraising and doing it wrong, it’s the people who will decide,” Gregory said. “That candidate might not have success.”

Dillon on Jan. 26 said there have been two local campaigns over the last four years where candidates still have loans on the books of over $60,000 in one case and $90,000 in another. She didn’t give the names.

“That concerns me greatly,” Dillon said.

No citizens addressed the Board of Supervisors on the topic during public comments at either the Jan. 26 or last week’s meeting. They will have more chances, with a draft ordinance scheduled to come before the Board on March 16.

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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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