Del Mar campaign reforms take hold ahead of 2018 election

Campaign reforms went into effect last week that will allow candidates for the Del Mar City Council to raise more money while also tightening financial disclosures alongside a stricter—but voluntary—set of ethical guidelines.

The reforms mark Del Mar’s first since 2000, and take aim at making this November’s election—which will contest the seats held by Terry Sinnott and Mayor Dwight Worden—more civil and transparent after unsavory tactics emerged during the 2016 campaign.

Under the new ordinance, Del Mar’s maximum personal donation doubled to $200, contributions of $75 or more must be disclosed (up from $25), and political parties will not be allowed to contribute more than $2,000 to a candidate.

The ordinance applies to city council candidates and their election committees, as well as committees formed to advocate for or against city ballot initiatives or to oppose a specific candidate.

Candidates will not be limited in using their personal funds.

The ordinance’s March 5 approval came as a continuation of a Feb. 20 hearing during which the council haggled at length over the details, eventually paring back the financial disclosure threshold from $100 to $75 and the political party contribution from $4,000 to $2,000. When no member of the public asked to speak on March 5, the ordinance moved to the evening’s consent calendar, which the council approved unanimously.

Paired with the ordinance, the council on Feb. 20 adopted a “fair campaign practices” policy for candidates and their top aides. It asks candidates to sign a pledge to fact-check their communications and to avoid anonymous surrogates or straw men. If misinformation comes to light, the candidate is expected to publicly correct their error.

The policy also seeks to eliminate last-minute “hit pieces” by prohibiting candidates from issuing new communications in the final two days before the election.

The new ethical guidelines, however, do not have an enforcement mechanism. The pledge will be voluntary and violations will be handled not by penalty but by publicly outing the transgressors.

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