OAKLAND — Individual contribution limits would increase to $1,000, and campaign spending limits would go up by 40 percent in city elections under a proposal put forward Thursday by City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente.
De La Fuente's proposal followed the Oakland public ethics commission's recommendation to council that Oakland not change its campaign donation and spending rules this election year — a topic the commission took under consideration after City Attorney John Russo suggested the limits should be doubled because of Oakland's switch to a voting system that precludes the need for primary elections.
De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) disagreed with the ethics commission.
"There was a primary (election). There was a general (election)," he said. "And now we don't have that. The campaign expenditure limits and the contribution limits were based on that system."
When Russo made his recommendation earlier this year, he said it made sense to double the limits because, as he put it, two election cycles were being rolled into one with Oakland's switch to instant-runoff voting. He also said candidates likely would want to spend extra money to educate people on how the new voting system works.
Russo's proposal was met with a storm of opposition, including from the original supporters of instant-runoff voting and the League of Women Voters. The ethics commission made its recommendation against any changes March 4.
"We have a difference of opinion, and I respect that," De La Fuente said.
He, like Russo, said it's fair to raise the limits to give candidates more resources to describe to voters how instant-runoff voting works. His proposal would raise individual contribution limits from $700 to $1,000, raise donation limits from political committees from $1,300 to $1,600, and raise campaign spending limits by 40 percent.
That means the mayoral contest would have a limit of about $530,000, district council contests would have limits of about $160,000, and school board races would have limits of about $105,000.
The council's rules committee is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to send De La Fuente's proposal to the full council April 20. The proposal could have particular impact on Oakland's mayoral contest, where former state Sen. Don Perata, an ally of De La Fuente's, listed expenditures and outstanding debts topping $100,000 as of Dec. 31. His top competitor in the race, Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), had spent only $7,108.
Quan has acknowledged keeping the limits as is would help her mayoral prospects. She also said it is not good long-term policy to raise the caps because she believes doing so hurts grass-roots candidates.
"I agree with the public ethics commission recommendation that basically it looks like (the current limits) are more than enough for people to run campaigns," she said. "I'm also very concerned about changing the rules in the middle of the game."
Perata said in a Jan. 25 letter to supporters that he had "no doubts" his campaign would need increases "to wage our campaign effectively" but subsequently said he wasn't overly concerned about what might happen.
At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who is also weighing a run for mayor, said earlier this month she disagreed with Russo's proposal but was open to "a compromise that would up (the limits) by a small amount."
She could not be reached Thursday afternoon about De La Fuente's proposal.
Mayor Ron Dellums, meantime, is still undecided on whether to run again for mayor, his spokesman Paul Rose said.
A blog item posted to the San Francisco Chronicle's Web site late Wednesday suggested Dellums will run again and quoted an unnamed source involved in Oakland political circles for more than 30 years as saying, "Dellums is going to give it a go and see what happens."
Anything to it? Dellums did hold a fundraiser March 6, but Rose said it was for his officeholder account — not a campaign. Officeholder account funds can be used for everything from purchasing furniture to paying employee salaries. They cannot be transferred into campaign accounts.
"The mayor has not yet made a decision on whether or not he will run again," Rose said in a statement. "He has stated very publicly that when he knows, the community will know. Until that time, the mayor has some time to make his decision."
Geoffrey Pete, vice chairman of the Oakland Black Caucus, who said he hosted the Dellums fundraiser with the Joyce Gordon Gallery downtown, said he hopes Kaplan runs if Dellums doesn't — but that he has no firsthand knowledge of what Dellums will do.
"I don't have the slightest notion of whether he is or isn't (running)," Pete said. "If he isn't, I've given my commitment to Rebecca."
Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) is urging the city to rename City Hall's four hearing rooms after the Oakland police officers killed in the line of duty last March.
Fatally shot March 21, 2009, were Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans and Dan Sakai and Officer John Hege. Reid's proposal is scheduled to go before the council April 20.