OAKLAND -- Councilwoman Pat Kernighan is seeking to limit candidates from setting up independent political committees to pump money into their election bids and circumvent the city's election law.
Independent committees, such as those used to support ballot measures, are not subject to Oakland's law capping campaign contributions and spending limits for elected offices.
Kernighan's proposal, which is expected to go to the full council by the end of the month, would prohibit candidates for city office from using their independent committees to either support their election effort or oppose other candidates for office.
"Our whole Oakland campaign reform act is really about trying to limit the influence of money in elections," she said Thursday. "(These committees) present the potential for abuse of that goal."
Kernighan had been working on the reform proposal for several weeks, but announced it less than one week after this paper reported that Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan had used a ballot measure campaign during her first run for mayor to pay for a campaign staffer who said he didn't work on the measure.
Kaplan, who is running for mayor again this year, is terminating her ballot measure committee. Her spokesman, Jason Overman, said Kaplan supported Kernighan's proposal. He also said that all staffers paid from the 2010 ballot measure campaign had worked on it, although he was not able to provide documentation.
A complaint against Kaplan relating to her use of the ballot measure committee was filed this week with Oakland's Public Ethics Commission.
It can be advantageous for political candidates to set up ballot measure campaigns because it allows them to raise unlimited sums of money that critics say can be used to curry favor with interest groups, create patronage networks and promote themselves as much as the ballot measures.
Oakland is limited under state and federal law in its ability to prevent candidates from using the committees to their advantage. Kernighan's proposal likely wouldn't preclude candidates with ballot measure funds from making donations to outside groups that promote both the candidate and the ballot measure. And it wouldn't prevent a candidate from producing campaign mailers highlighting their support for the measure.
"It's good to close the loopholes that we can close," Councilman Dan Kalb said Thursday. "But we should be aware there are loopholes that we can't address."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.