City Council Meeting: June 19, 2007
Agenda Item: 8-E
To: Mayor and City Council
Subject: Report on Community Meeting Held: Improving the Electoral Process
Staff recommends that Council review the information contained in this report and provide direction to staff.
At the March 13, 2007, City Council meeting, the City Council directed the City Attorney to return with advice on how the intent of the existing campaign contribution laws can be better implemented and enforced and directed the City Clerk to hold a community workshop to receive public comment on means to improve the electoral process. This report complies with Council's direction as to the results of the community workshop. The City Attorney will respond to the direction related to improved implementation of the intent of the existing campaign contribution laws in a separate report.
During the March 13th meeting, the City Council discussed the idea of implementing a Public Financing of Elections program in the City. There were approximately 34 members of the public who commented generally in favor of public financing of elections. Issues raised by members of the public and by Councilmembers during discussion included but were not limited to: negative, false, or misleading campaign literature during the election season; lack of women and minority candidates; need to maintain voter-owned elections; the possibility of adjusting the local $250 contribution limit; political sustainability; ranked voting and instant runoff voting; public financing of electoral campaigns; the effect of unlimited independent expenditures on elections; sources of the bulk of contributions to candidates; and also the question as to whether elections are working well in Santa Monica.
After considerable discussion, Council opted to direct staff to hold a community meeting and receive feedback on how residents felt the electoral process is working in the City and on ways to improve the process.
Staff scheduled the meeting for Monday, May 14, 2007, from 7:00
p.m., to 9:00 p.m. The event was held at
The May 14th meeting was attended by 70 residents. In order to establish a base for the meeting, staff distributed a fact sheet that included information on the City demographics, voter turnout in Santa Monica and other cities, existing local campaign reforms, regulations for City office candidates, and on campaign regulations including contribution and expenditure limits. A copy of the fact sheet is attached as Exhibit A.
Staff secured the assistance of a facilitator for the meeting from the firm Moore, Iacofano & Goltsman. Although no funds were approved for expenditures related to this meeting, staff felt it was important to have an experienced facilitator to make the most of the event, and to maintain the impartiality and neutrality of the subject matter. Also, the cost was minimal. Attached as Exhibit A-1 is a chart created at the meeting.
The meeting began with the City Clerk reviewing the information in the fact sheet as a basis for the discussion. The facilitator then opened the discussion by asking the attendees what they felt was currently working well in the electoral process. After some discussion and feedback on the question of what is working well, the discussion moved on to what could be improved. Below is a summary of the discussion.
What is working well in
The attendees felt that the City was providing helpful and timely information to new potential candidates and that the information assisted individuals in their decision to run for office. The timeliness and depth of election information on the City's website was also noted, including the quick availability of campaign statements, candidate information, and election process information. Residents indicated their support for the existing $250 contribution limit, although there were comments made for both increasing and decreasing the limit. The term "transparency" of existing information was repeatedly used in a positive manner. The debates and public forums held throughout the election season were also discussed favorably. In a show of hands, the majority of attendees indicated that the process was working relatively well in the City.
What can be improved in the electoral process?
The remainder of the time scheduled for the event was spent on discussing the question of how to improve the electoral process. The majority of residents participated with thoughtful comments, opinions, ideas and suggestions. Generally, the issues raised by participants at the community meeting mirrored the issues raised during public comment and discussed by the City Council at the March 13th meeting.
As related to election campaigns, attendees discussed the following: accountability and civic responsibility regarding the use of contributions by candidates; the need for fact-checking and monitoring of campaign literature and the need for the ability to censure or expose candidates and committees that send out misleading literature; the need for
more substantive debates; more free media containing election information such as a hard copy "city newspaper" sent out to residents on a regular basis (for those that do not have access to the newspapers or have computers at home).
Reference was made to the possibility of creating an independent
entity with a charge similar to the existing "Campaign Watch
Commission" created by the League of Women voters of
Staff contacted both the L.A. League of Women Voters Commission
and the Malibu Commission for a review of the effectiveness of the programs. Representatives from both entities reported
that initially their respective commissions received complaints regularly and
the members met to discharge their duties.
Attached as Exhibit B is a copy of the mission statement and the
webpage for the City of
Limits on Contributions
Residents spoke in favor of public financing of elections in order to provide a level playing field, but some also spoke in opposition noting that public financing of elections would not affect or curtail independent expenditures. Other issues discussed on this subject were the need for more transparency from contributors and PACS; public funding to allow for rebuttals; clarification of policy for independent expenditure committees; immediate reporting of expenditures when incurred; enforcement of viola-tions of existing laws and regulations and notification to the public of same; and enforcement of the Oaks Initiative.
After the community
meeting staff received additional feedback on the subject of public financing
of elections in the form of a written proposal submitted by VOTE4SM, which is
described in the proposal as "a
Attendees spoke both in favor and in opposition of term limits, an elected mayor, and ranked voting. Comments were made in favor of a "full-time" Council, more youth participation, mentoring of new candidates by incumbents, more minority and women candidates, and support staff for individual Councilmembers or appointment of a City ombudsman. There were also comments made regarding the need for more accessible polling sites for the disabled and issues with voting machine accuracy.
Messaging and Communications
Although initially the majority of attendees rated City information and transparency high, comments were made in favor of more information and disclosure, and more debates and public forums. Seascape was noted as an important source of information that should be used to disseminate election information during the election season.
There was a perception with members of the public of a lack of enforcement by the City of election law violations. Staff would like to clarify that during every election season the City Clerk and the City Attorney receive complaints of possible violations of election law from candidates, committees, and members of the public. The complaints are promptly reviewed and investigated by the City. When appropriate, the alleged violator(s) is notified in writing of the exact nature of the violation and is requested to correct the same. When deemed necessary, the complaint is referred to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) or to the District Attorney's Office (DAO) with a request for enforcement of the alleged violation. The investigation processes of the FPPC and of the DAO are lengthy and it may be weeks or months before the City is notified of any resolution of a complaint, and it is likely that such a resolution will come about long after the election is over. In order to address the public's perception of lack of enforcement of election law violations, Council may wish to consider directing staff to implement a policy of noticing the receipt of complaints and of their respective resolutions to the public.
Residents also indicated interest in seeing some kind of tracking of the voting records of candidates once they have been elected, so as to monitor the candidate's commitment to his/her campaign promises. Free wireless service citywide and extended public library hours for access to computers were also favored.
A total of 113 surveys were received through June 11, 2007. Of these, 109 indicated they were city residents. Again, the majority of comments mirrored issues raised at the City Council meeting on March 13th, and issues raised at the community meeting. Other issues raised through the surveys were as follows:
- get rid of slates
- campaign contributions favor PAC's/slates rather than individual voices
- need electronic filing of campaign statements
- limit the length of time for active campaigning
- either enforce violations of illegal signs, or exempt regulation during election
(have incumbents lead by example)
- tax incentives for business to support individuals
- city contributions to candidates' campaigns
- limit public campaign money to non-incumbents only
- create a tax to pay for public financing
- no taxpayer funding of elections
- no public financing, it won't stop special interests' political advertising
- encourage young people to be poll workers
- parking at polling sites difficult
- voting by mail
- Saturday or Sunday elections
- elect council by districts
- Council, but at least Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, should have field reps
- have no special elections
- pay Councilmembers more
- works great, don't fix something that isn't broken
- less corruption
- need Charter Study Committee
- voters should be able to vote for or against Council's choice for City Manager and
- average middle class voter gets lost in extremes between renters and higher
- require ID for voting
- voting on-line
- there is fair, efficient and prompt handling and distribution of election materials.
Messaging and Communication
- simplify voting documents, November 2006 ballot too complicated
- turnout too low, improve voter outreach
- stop last minute electioneering (ads/mailers)
- have neighborhood candidate forums
- excellent public participation and awareness, politically engaged residents, high
- allow (provide for) "opting out" of receiving campaign mail
- encourage use of neighborhood web portal for debate between residents
- city-sponsored publicity regarding false facts
- create legal block to misleading literature
- prohibit mailers; everything to be posted on-line (paperless)
- less election-related phone calls
- restore Public Electronic Network for discussion of issues on-line between
- create virtual town hall on City's website
- closed captioning of candidate debates and interviews.
- candidate debates should be on the internet.
- more advertising to inform public of candidate debates
A sample of the survey is attached as Exhibit E.
Overall, the issues discussed at the March 13th Council meeting, at the community meeting, and the remarks received via surveys share some common threads including negative and/or misleading campaign literature, independent expenditures, spending limits, public financing of elections and a different voting process such as ranked or IRV voting. Also, some residents appear to be in favor of certain ideas that other residents oppose such as having an elected mayor and establishing terms limits. Given the scope of the information received so far, Council may want to consider directing staff to conduct a phone survey. A random phone survey will collect data from a broader sample of the population and may provide different views than those received from the group of residents that attended the Council meeting or the group that took the time to complete the survey and/or attend the community meeting. The cost of a 10-minute survey that would sample 300 voters city-wide and ask 10 election process related questions will cost approximately $13,000.
Invitations and notices of the community meeting were delivered,
mailed via U.S. mail, and/or e-mailed to the following: Chamber of Commerce, major City businesses,
neighborhood groups, non-profits, local religious organizations, existing
campaign committees, Senior Center mailing lists, the media, attendees and
groups represented at the March 13th meeting, all City board and commission
members, Rent Control Board, and College and School District administration and
elected officials. Notices were posted
in all parks, Senior Centers, public libraries, public counters in City
offices, and in Big Blue Buses. The
meeting was advertised on CityTV, the Daily Press, surfsantamonica, Seascape
and the City's website. In addition, the
surveys were distributed and made available to residents at the Board &
Commission dinner, Farmers' Markets,
Electronic Filing of Campaign Statements
At the May 22, 2007 budget session Council directed staff to look into the possibility of implementing an electronic campaign filing system. Staff has researched this possibility and provides the following information.
The Secretary of State's Office (SOS) has a list of authorized
vendors who may provide programs and technical services for electronic filing
of campaign statements, and includes a program designed and developed by the
The City of
The City of
company named NetFile is being used by the cities of
Council may wish to consider directing staff to research the cost
of on-going maintenance of the program available for purchase from the City of
Public Financing of Elections in Other Comparable Cities
Lastly, also at the March 13th Council meeting, Council directed
staff to research how public financing of elections was working in
comparable-sized cities. The cities of
The City of Boulder, Colorado is the most comparable in resident
and voter population, at just over 100,000 residents and 70,218 registered
For the November 2005 election, based on the formula, the expenditure limit was $12,610 including 50% of matching funds in the amount of $6,305 for participating candidates. The program is funded by the General Fund. During this election there were 10 candidates running for office. Four candidates qualified for matching funds, and two of those four candidates were elected. An incumbent who was re-elected did not participate in the program.