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An earlier post suggested an excellent question about campaign financing: What is the difference between 1.) funding a race for city council by loaning your campaign money and 2.) funding a race with your own outright monetary contribution?

Loaning Your Campaign Money

New ethics rules cap the allowable amount that a candidate can loan his or her campaign at $100,000. The rules also require the campaign to raise enough money to repay the loan no later than 180 days after the election occurs. These rules did not apply in 2004 to Phil Thalheimer, however, and very unfortunately do not apply to him in 2008 either.

Previously, a candidate could loan his or her campaign any amount of money. If elected, the new city councilmember could then solicit donations from donors and special interests and transfer these contributions directly into his own pocket to repay the campaign loan.

It is pretty clear — and the Ethics Commission thinks so, too — there were inherent ethical conflicts existed under the old system of recovering loaned dollars. The appearance of a newly elected city councilmember personally pocketing contributions from special interests offends all senses of fair play and equal access

What this means in the current District 1 race is that unlike the other candidates, Phil Thalheimer operates under the old system of campaign finance rules. He did not shut down his old campaign account and start a new one for this campaign, which would have been subject to the new ethics rules. Phil is taking advantage of the old campaign finance rules that permit him to personally gain. If he is elected, Phil plans to raise $1.1 million to repay himself from his 2004 losing effort.

(Both David Washburn and Scott Lewis recently wrote about this subject here in the voice. I recommend their articles.)

Giving Your Campaign an Outright Contribution

Giving an outright contribution to your campaign is completely different from loaning money to it. If a candidate gives his or her campaign money as a contribution, rather than loans the campaign money, the candidate cannot be reimbursed. Period. That is what Marshall Merrifield has done.

By giving and not loaning money to his campaign, Marshall has made a significant personal commitment with no expectation of repayment. Win or lose, those self-donated dollars are gone.

In Marshall’s case, District 1 residents rest assured that money will not influence the allocation of their newly elected councilmember’s time or resources. Everyone will get equal attention because the playing field is level. No one will sit on higher ground because a person or special interest helped repay a huge personal loan.

Independent Expenditures

The use of independent expenditures (IE) is one more funding mechanism that should cause us concern. IE’s are undertaken in support of a candidate’s campaign by outside groups — most frequently organized labor. Unlimited amounts of dollars can, and do, flow into these committees, given by people who have a vested interest in the outcome of elections

In our District 1 race for City Council, special interests are poised to dump tens of thousands of dollars in support of candidate Sherri Lightner. Of course, these special interests (labor unions) seek support for their causes from the candidate who benefits from their effort. It should come as no surprise that Lightner opposes managed competition and other reforms designed to make city government more efficient.

The special interests that stand ready to influence the outcome of the coming election are the same special interests that stuck taxpayers with an under-funded pension liability that threatens our city’s fiscal health today. You and I suffer from reduced library hours, pockmarked streets, and stretched-thin public safety concerns because of the control these special interests exerted in the past.

In the June 3 election, District 1 voters have a distinct choice. You can vote for someone who is directed by self-interest, someone who is directed by special interests, or someone who is directed by your interests — that is Marshall Merrifield.

Join me in electing Marshall Merrifield, the right man at the right time to fix the problems at City Hall and secure San Diego’s future.

— JANETTE LITTLER

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