San Bernardino County is poised to become the first local government in California to use the state’s political watchdog agency to monitor its campaign finances, a move officials hope will improve the county’s corruption-stained reputation.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday, July 24, signed legislation allowing the state Fair Political Practices Commission to sign a contract with the county to enforce campaign finance rules being developed by the county’s Board of Supervisors.
In April, the state commission unanimously voted to support the county’s proposal.
Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who suggested a contract with the commission, praised the bill signing.
“This legislation provides the county with an effective and affordable means of policing campaign contribution and spending rules,” she said in a press release. “Now the board can move forward with adopting campaign finance rules that limit campaign contributions and help thwart influence peddling by deep-pocket donors.”
Reached by phone, Rutherford said she hopes supervisors can approve the contract by the end of the year before campaign finance rules are expected to take effect.
Some California cities and counties have ethics commissions, including the city of Los Angeles. Riverside County does not have an ethics commission, nor do any of its cities.
San Bernardino County officials considered forming their own ethics panel. But Rutherford said, “There’s no need to form another layer of county government when there’s already a state agency that is more than capable of enforcing these rules.”
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said she can’t think of any other examples of the commission doing what it intends to do in San Bernardino County.
“It’s certainly a good idea,” she said. “I think it’s important to have those laws in place and for people to know they are in place and they’re being enforced … (The commission has) good people who are thinking broadly about these types of laws and what they’re intended to do.”
Using the state commission “helps us avoid the conflict of interest issues that come with ethics panels appointed by the elected officials they are trying to police,” she added.