The Half Moon Bay City Council agreed to lower campaign contributions to align the city’s rules with those of other cities of comparable size and to encourage grassroots campaigning.

The new rules will limit campaign contributions to $250 by an individual, $500 by an organization and the amount a candidate can loan to their campaign will be capped at $1,500. 

The council decided to change the contribution limits at a meeting Feb. 5 — the municipal code requires the council to revisit contribution limits after every election in which a councilmember is elected — and a first reading of the ordinance will return to council likely at its next meeting. 

The current rules allow individuals or businesses to donate up to $1,000 to campaigns and the ceiling for loans is $5,000. Those limits were established in 2007 and between 2005 and 2007, the limits were similar to what the council just agreed upon.

Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said she wanted to lower contribution limits in part because Half Moon Bay currently has the highest contribution limits of California cities with similar populations between 10,000 and 13,000 people.

“The only city that I could find that has $1,000 is the city of Commerce in Los Angeles County and Santa Ana, which is several hundred thousand people,” she said, adding that capping loans to $1,500 would limit “the fat cat effect.” “Especially once we have district elections where you need to reach 1,500 people, you want people to go door to door or do other grassroots campaigning.”

Ruddock floated an even lower $500 limit for loans, but her colleagues felt that was too restrictive.

“I would like to keep loans to at least $1,000 or maybe $1,500 for the reason that there are times when you want to have a party and you have to put the money up front and people may come and donate to that occasion but you have to put the money up,” said Councilwoman Deborah Penrose. “It cost $1,000 to $1,500 just to order the first batch of [campaign] signs and if you’re not keeping up with the donations then you can’t campaign effectively.”

Vice Mayor Adam Eisen was also worried about being overly restrictive.

“It’s hard enough to get money and you do need to run a campaign as is and I don’t want to make it too limiting for people to run an effective campaign,” he said. 

Mayor Harvey Rarback said he wants the council to revisit contribution limits for mayor once the switch to district elections happens and that position is elected citywide.

Councilman Robert Brownstone supported the new contribution limits.

“I like the idea of going back to the old [2005] maximum amounts,” he said. “I ran my election on a shoestring and have money left over so there’re a lot of different strategies one can utilize and not have tons of money.”

In other business, Penrose said she wants the council to soon discuss a potential minimum wage hike and ban on single-use plastic containers in the city.   

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