Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), and Answers about the Alhambra Ballot Initiative
Q: Is anything in the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act unique to Alhambra?
A: No. Everything proposed in this ballot initiative has already been instituted in other California cities.
Q: Are campaign donor limits common?
A: Yes. Per a 2016 report by California Common Cause:
"Campaign contribution limits are very common in the United States. The federal government has enacted contribution limits to candidates for Congress and the presidency and 38 states had enacted campaign contribution limits covering campaigns for state office. Thirty-four states have also enacted local campaign contribution limits, but not California."
Therefore, it is up to California cities to decide whether or not to impose campaign contribution limits.
Q: Are campaign donor limits common in California?
A: Yes. Data shows that as of 2016, at least 109 California cities and 15 counties have campaign donor limits and that over 50% of California residents live in a city with campaign donor limits. Cities near Alhambra that have campaign donor limits include Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Glendale, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Pomona, and Burbank.
Q: Why the $250 donor limit and not a different number?
A: Data show that a city's donor limit varies widely. There is no universally accepted system of analysis for determining a city's donor limit. The 2016 California Municipal Index states that "contribution limits range from a low of $100 per contributor per election up to $4,200 per election for individuals." For perspective, the state imposes an individual donor limit of $4,700 to candidates for State Assembly. Assembly districts encompass multiple cities and typically hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of people.
With that in mind, the goal is to implement contribution limits that level the political playing field. A donor limit that is too high is meaningless, one that is too low could hamstring a candidate's ability to effectively raise funds. Proponents of the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act researched the donor limits of other cities and their populations to determine an adequate donor limit for Alhambra based on its size (roughly 85,400 residents) and a by-district electoral system. It was determined that a $250 contribution limit was adequate for candidates running in districts with roughly 17,000 residents.
Los Angeles: $800 donor limit (by-district voting, population 3.8 million, 15 districts with roughly 250,000 residents per district);
Burbank: $420 donor limit (at-large voting, population 103,300);
Long Beach: $250 donor limit (by-district voting, population 469,00, nine districts with roughly 52,100 residents per district);
Poway: $100 donor limit (by-district voting, population 47,800,four districts with roughly 12,000 residents per district);
Santa Ana: $1,000 donor limit (at-large voting, population 324,500);
Santa Monica: $340 donor limit (at-large voting, population 93,000);
San Diego: $500 donor limit (by-district voting, 1.3 million, nine districts with roughly 145,000 residents per district);
Berkeley: $250 donor limit (by-district voting, population 122,324, eight districts with roughly 15,200 residents per district);
Davis: $100 donor limit (at-large voting, 68,986).
Q: Is a $250 contribution limit uncommon?
A: No. 2016 data shows that at least 30 California cities have a campaign donor limit of $250 or lower.
Q: Does the $250 donor limit adjust to inflation?
A: Yes. If instituted, Alhambra's $250 donor limit would be adjusted every odd-numbered year to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Q: Does the proposed charter amendment measure have a fundraising window (a limited time when candidates can take in campaign funds)?
A: Yes. Candidates for city council may only raise campaign funds 7 months prior to the election and until December 31 immediately following the election (roughly a total of 9 months).
Q: Why does the proposed charter amendment measure have a fundraising window?
A: Fundraising windows are a common type of campaign finance reform. They prevent incumbents and future candidates from soliciting campaign funds year-round, which greatly increases the likelihood of pay-to-play politics. Fundraising year-round also grants incumbent councilmembers a significant advantage by allowing them to amass large campaign war chests that make it hard for non-incumbents to compete on a level playing field. Fundraising windows also ensure incumbents focus more on their duties as elected leaders rather than time spent fundraising during their 4-year terms of office.
Loans and personal funds
Q: Can a candidate spend as much of their own money as they wants on their campaign?
Q: Can a candidate receive loans for his/her campaign?
Q: Can a candidate loan his/her campaign money then pay themselves back later on with additional campaign funds?
A: Yes, but the candidate can only repay his/herself back up to $10,000 in loaned money from his/her campaign account.
Q: Why can a candidate only pay themselves back $10,000 in personal loans?
A: Wealth does not assume greater qualification for local office. Therefore, in a democracy, wealth should not dictate who can run a competitive campaign. Yet, under current circumstances it does. Those with greater means have greater messaging power and often greater access and influence. Most people who run for local office cannot afford to self-fund a campaign, but if they can, they have a distinct advantage over their lower income opponents. Therefore, placing a reasonable limit on the amount of money a candidate can repay his/herself through his/her campaign account levels the playing field by placing a premium on the solicitation of campaign funds through community engagement. It also compensates for the fact that a wealthy opponent has a distinct campaign messaging advantage, and therefore a greater chance of winning the election, over their medium or low-income opponents. Therefore, a ceiling on the amount a candidate can repay themselves from campaign funds levels the playing field and increases the likelihood of consistently competitive elections, which is always good for democracy.
Q: Why does the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act only allow a candidate to keep up to $5,000 in his/her campaign account after elected?
A: This does multiple things that make elections a more equal playing field, which is in line with the spirit of the initiative and democratic principles. First, it prevents an incumbent from amassing and then sitting on a large campaign war chest, which discourages potential opponents from running in future elections. Lack of competition in democratic elections is not healthy. Multiple city council elections have been canceled in Alhambra over the last two decades for lack of any opponent. Second, it encourages a candidate to use the majority of their funds on campaign messaging so that the electorate can better understand a candidate's platform and subsequently cast an informed vote.
Q: What happens if a candidate has more than $5,000 left in their campaign account after an election?
A: Candidates with more than $5,000 in their campaign account after an election, or when they withdraw from an election, must return excess contributions to donors on a pro rata basis or donate it to charity within 90 days.
Contributions from people and entities
Q: Are contributions from people and entities (LLCs, corporations, unions, businesses, etc.) the same, and does the $250 donor limit apply to both?
A: Yes, and Yes. People and entities are treated the same. A "Person," as defined by California's Political Reform Act treats humans and the businesses and organizations they operate as one and the same.
Q: What does the "aggregation of payments" portion of the ballot initiative mean and why is it needed?
A: This portion of the ballot measure is included to prevent circumvention of the $250 donor limit. Some people have a controlling stake in multiple companies/entities, and since contributions are allowed by individuals and entities, we want to ensure that the contributions coming from the companies of an individual who is a majority stakeholder in that company are aggregated/accrued, so that a person cannot evade the donor limit by giving the max campaign contribution through various entities they own or sit on the board of. Thus, rather than a person giving three separate $250 contributions through three of his/her companies totaling $750, the total amount he/she can give is $250 combined between the person and all of his/her companies.
Q: How does the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act increase transparency and accountability?
A: One of the best ways to counter money's influence in politics is to make it easy for the public to monitor who is funding a candidate's campaign. California's Political Reform Act requires that all candidates running for local office file campaign finance reports. These reports are public information, but unless you know they exist, what they are called, know how to access them, or have time to stop by city hall to look at them, they go unnoticed. The Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act requires city hall to post all candidates' campaign finance reports on the city's website, making it much easier for the public to monitor who is funding a candidate's campaign. After all, where you sit is often where you stand. Knowing who a candidate is receiving most of their campaign money from can provide you with insight into how they will likely vote and what policies they will support if elected.
Q: Is it common for cities to put campaign finance reports online?
A: Yes. 2016 data reveals that 116 California cities (24%) scan and publish online copies of the paper reports they receive, and 27 more cities were slated to publish campaign finance reports online by the end of 2017. This number is expected to significantly increase over the next decade.
Penalties and Safeguards
Q: Are there penalties if a candidate does not adhere to the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act?
A: Yes, just as there are penalties for any law that is broken. Violation of the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act will result in a misdemeanor office with a 4-year statute of limitations. In addition, "Any person who intentionally or negligently violates the contribution provisions of this article shall be liable in a civil action brought by the City Attorney or by a person residing within the jurisdiction for an amount not more than five (5) times the amount of the unlawful contribution." Civil actions have a 2-year statute of limitation.
Q: Why a misdemeanor and not simply a fine?
A: State law allows candidates and elected officials to pay fines and/or the cost of legal fees associated with a campaign through contributions made to a candidate's campaign account. For candidates who have large campaign coffers, or who are wealthy, they may consider a fine or the cost of legal fees incurred for violating election and campaign finance laws worth the cost of winning an election. Thus, in order to ensure that candidates and elected officials take the law seriously, there must be meaningful punishment for violating election and campaign finance laws.
Q: What if a candidate unintentionally violates the Alhambra Election And Campaign Finance Reform Act?
A: There is a clause in the proposed legislation that requires the city clerk to monitor candidate filling statements and inform them if they have violated the law, allowing them to amend their statements and return any excessive campaign funds. The city clerk will also provide every city council candidate with a copy of the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act.
Q: Is by-district voting uncommon?
A: No. As of 2016, 57 California cities had by-district electoral systems. Furthermore, the state is trending towards by-district voting. The author of the California Municipal Index, Nicolas Heidorn, estimates that there are now close to 100 California cities that have either transitioned or are committed to transitioning to by-district voting. That is almost a 100% increase over a 3-year span in the number of California cities with by-district voting systems.
Q: Don't only big cities have by-district electoral systems?
A: No. Cities of all sizes have by-district electoral systems. California cities as small as Bradbury (population 1,093) and as large as Los Angeles (population of over 4 million) have by-district electoral systems.
Q: Do California cities similar in size to Alhambra have by-district elections?
A: Yes. Cities with similar populations to Alhambra have a by-district voting format. It is not uncommon. In fact, the median population for cities with by-district elections is 85,526 (Alhambra's current population is 85,396). Below is a list of some cities with similar populations to Alhambra that have by-district elections.
Menifee: Population 90,660
Redding: Population 90,653
Indio: Population 88,718
San Leandro: Population 88,274
Chino: Population 88,026
Whittier: Population 87,708
Redwood City: Population 85,601
Lake Forest: Population 84,931
Newport Beach: Population 84,915
Merced: Population 84,464
Buena Park: Population 83,884
Tustin: Population 82,372
Hemet: Population 81,868
Chino Hills: Population 80,676
Q: Doesn't Alhambra Already have districts?
A: Yes, but Alhambra holds at-large city council elections (every resident gets to vote for every city council candidate regardless of the district they live in), not by-district elections (only residents from a candidate's district get to vote for them).
Q: What kind of electoral system does Alhambra currently have?
A: Alhambra currently has a from-district electoral system, which means that the city has 5 districts and that one city councilmember must come from each district, but residents in all districts get to vote for city candidates in every district (just like at-large voting but with districts).
Q: Are from-district elections common?
A: No. data reveals that only 8 California cities have from-district elections (Alhambra's current election system is an outlier; it is not the norm).
Q: Will switching to by-district elections take time or cost the city money?
A: No. The switch to by-district elections will be easy for Alhambra because Alhambra already has districts drawn. Thus, the City will not have to go through the initial districting process. The charter amendment proposed in the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act states that the City shall retain its current districts, updating them every 10 years, as required by law, to ensure as equal a number of residents as possible in each district.
Q: Is the way we vote for state and federal leaders more similar to at-large or by-district voting?
A: The way we vote for our state and federal leaders is akin to by-district voting. When Californians vote for state assembly and senate as well as our state's members of the U.S. House of Representatives, we vote by-districts. The entire state of California does not get to vote for who represents Alhambrans in their assembly district (49th Assembly District), their senate district (22nd Senate District), or their U.S. Congressional district (27th Congressional District). Only Alhambrans and the residents of other cities within the same district get to vote for who represents them in state and federal government. Thus, a by-district system is no different than how we vote for county, state, and federal representatives.
Q: Under Alhambra's current from-district election system, could the candidate of my choice win his/her district and lose the election?
A: Yes. Under Alhambra's current voting system, district votes are diluted by votes from the rest of the city. For example, candidate(A) from district one could receive 10 total votes from district one and candidate (B) could receive 8 total votes from district one. However, because candidate (B) received an additional 40 votes from districts two, three, four and five for a total of 48 votes city-wide, and candidate (A) only received an additional 35 votes from the other four districts for a total of 45 votes city-wide, candidate (B) wins the city election even though a majority of residents from his/her district preferred candidate (A).
Q: Will by-district voting make my vote more relevant?
A: Yes, because your vote for the candidate of your choice from your district will no longer be diluted by votes from other districts.
Q: Alhambra is a majority-minority city, meaning the majority of its residents are non-white. How are their votes effected under Alhambra's current electoral system, and how will minority votes be affected if it changes to by-district elections?
A: Just like district votes are diluted under Alhambra's current electoral system, minority votes are diluted as well, which can result in an under-representation of minority groups on the city council. For example, even though about 50% of Alhambrans are of Asian ethnicity, if most of them live in just one or two districts then their votes will be diluted by the votes from Alhambra's other three districts. The same is true for Alhambra's Hispanic population, which accounts for about 36% of the city's residents. By-district elections will decrease minority vote dilution and result in a city council that better represents Alhambra's ethnic and cultural make-up.
Q: The proponents of by-district elections claim it will increase competition in city council elections. How?
A: Under Alhambra's current at-large voting system, candidates must rely on a large campaign war chest to distribute expensive mailers across the city. One campaign mailer can cost upwards of $10,000. The sheer cost of running an effective city-wide campaign in Alhambra discourages potential candidates and severely limits who can run for city council. By decreasing the area of campaigning to one-fifth of the city (5 voting districts with roughly 17,000 residents as opposed to 86,000 residents city-wide), the cost of running an effective campaign diminishes significantly, and with that, the likelihood of more consistently competitive city council elections.
Q: The proponents of by-district elections claim it will lessen the influence of big-money in local politics. How?
A: By decreasing the cost of running an effective campaign, by-district elections allow candidates who do not rely on support from special moneyed-interests to still run an effective campaign. Even if a grassroots candidate has far less money than a wealthy or corporate-backed candidate, they are getting far more messaging power from the little money they do have since they do not have to campaign in all five districts. A candidate running for Alhambra City Council can much more easily walk and knock on the door of every registered voter in his/her district than he/she can knock on the door of every registered voter in the city.
Q: The proponents of by-district elections claim it will prevent representatives from your district from spending more time and money campaigning in other districts. How?
A: By-district elections will prevent representatives from your district from spending more time and money campaigning in other districts because only the people from their district can vote for them.
Q: The proponents of by-district elections claim it will create better representation. How?
A: Because only the residents of a district can vote for the candidates running in their district, it will encourage candidates to get to know their residents and better understand and address the needs of the people they represent. Under Alhambra's current at-large voting system, the candidate of a district that typically has low voter turnout, or who receives few campaign contributions from people living in their district, may decide to focus most of their time, money, and energy on people who live in a district that typically has higher voter turnout than their own, or a district in which they receive greater monetary support from. Thus, under Alhambra's current at-large voting system, city councilmembers and candidates are incentivized to focus more on the needs of the residents who live in districts with high voter turnout and/or wealthier districts from which they received a greater portion of their campaign donations. By-district voting would change that, resulting in a city council that more adequately addresses the varying needs of each of Alhambra's five districts.
Q: Opposition to this ballot measure has implied that it is a candidate friendly initiative that makes it easier for candidates to run for city council at the expense of voters' rights. Is this true?
A: No. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ease of running for office on a level playing field and voters' rights are not mutually exclusive. The implication that increasing candidate competition by encouraging more people to run for local office equates to voter suppression is absurd. In fact, the opposite is true. A residents vote in a by-district electoral system holds more value because it is not being diluted. A combination of campaign donor limits and by-district voting will result in more choice, not less, for the Alhambra voter, as it will lower barriers to candidate entry and induce greater representation that is untainted by moneyed interests.
Q: Now I get to vote for 5 city council members in Alhambra. Why would I choose to vote for just 1 when I can vote for 5? Don't I have more control over who is elected under Alhambra's current system?
A: This is a common argument made by opponents of by-district elections, but because your vote is being diluted by at-large voting, you actually have much less control over who is elected to any of the 5 city council seats let alone who is elected to represent your own district.
Q: Opposition to this ballot measure have argued that by-district elections will result in city councilmembers who only care about the people in their district rather than everyone in the city, resulting in a dysfunctional city council and government. Is this true?
A: No. By-district elections will NOT result in representatives only caring about the people in their district. They will still vote as representatives of the whole city, as responsible leaders should, but they will do so with a greater premium on the needs of the constituents from their district—just like our county, state, and federally elected leaders do. There are currently over 70 California cities with by-district voting systems and more cities are converting to by-district voting each year. This trend would not exist if by-district voting resulted in dysfunctional government. There is absolutely no evidence to support the argument that by-district voting increases the dysfunction of local government bodies.
Dysfunctional governmental bodies are the product of myriad variables and circumstances. That said, the intent of the Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform Act is to better ensure equal representation and functional government while at the same time decreasing the likelihood of corruption that can result from money's influence in politics.