A candidate for Santa Barbara County’s District 1, Laura Capps unveiled her campaign finance reform plan in a press conference Wednesday, calling for a restoration of public trust in government while criticizing campaign contributions received by her opponent, District 1 Supervisor Das Williams.
Ms. Capps’ “Make Government Accountable Plan” is a five-point strategy aimed at having less money in politics and greater transparency in local campaigns. It is a major priority for her campaign.
“We’re a part of a campaign that’s about ethics, that’s about listening. It’s a campaign about trustworthiness, and it’s also a campaign about change, and we need to change the way in which business is done in this building right behind us,” said Ms. Capps as she stood on the steps of the County Administration Building.
If elected, Ms. Capps will take aim at campaign regulations in five areas.
First, Ms. Capps would like to put a $1,000 contribution limit on County Supervisor races, a move that she said was supported by unions that she has spoken to about the issue.
“Right now we have a system that the sky’s the limit. Millions of dollars could literally be given to people running for office and those in office and that is not right, and it means there’s too much influence by the people that have that kind of ability, and the groups that have that kind of ability,” said Ms. Capps.
Ms. Capps also proposed limiting the acceptance of contributions to the year prior to an election and 90 days after, and a ban on all contributions from anyone with business before the Board for the entire period of consideration. She would also like to limit candidate spending and establish an independent ethics commission or process for the county.
Ms. Capps also called for more transparency in reporting contributions.
“Our county only has bi-annual reporting, which means we have what I call a public awareness blackout. A special interest could give a supervisor a million dollars in January, that project could be approved, and you all and the public would not know about it for six months, long past the attention span and the relevancy of that decision,” said Ms. Capps.
Ms. Capps proposed quarterly campaign donation disclosures for all elected officials under county jurisdiction, and said as supervisor she will disclose on her website information on any donations received on a monthly basis and will voluntarily list every group or person with which she meets to discuss county business.
When asked if she could give an example of special interests groups donating to a supervisor’s campaign during a decision process that affected them, Ms. Capps highlighted campaign contributions received by Mr. Williams from the cannabis industry.
“He is my supervisor and I don’t like the way this money has flowed into his campaign coffers three years from an election on decisions that were pending before the board,” said Ms. Capps.
During the press conference, Ms. Capps called out Mr. Williams for accepting $62,200 from 2016 to 2019 via the cannabis industry, including cultivators and law firms, while the county’s recent cannabis ordinance was being written and later while approving permits.
“Anyone would wonder about a decision if the people who stand to gain millions of dollars from that decision had a pipeline of that kind of access and that kind of political campaign influence,” said Ms. Capp.
In response, Mr. Williams told the News-Press that cannabis and the donations he has received are being used by Ms. Capps to manufacture a controversy in order to advance her political ambitions.
“I want to enact real campaign reform, a combination of contribution limits and public financing, but her proposal advantages the interests of her donors against our firefighters and public safety officers. That’s not right,” Mr. Williams said in a statement to the News-Press. “Her proposal would prevent our community’s firefighters and deputy sheriffs — some of the most active supporters of every member of the board of supervisors — from participating in politics. I stand by my record and work to enact some of the strongest regulations on the cannabis industry in the state — regulations that are far stronger than state law. That is a fact.”
President Santa Barbara Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, Neil Gowing, echoed Mr. Williams concerns and said that Ms. Capps’ proposal to ban all contributions from anyone with business before the Board would effectively exclude public safety officers.
“As the primarily law enforcement bargaining unit for the County, we regularly have business before the board — advocating for critical resources and weighing-in on important community issues such as improving emergency response. If Laura Capps’ proposal were to be enacted, this would force us to choose between advocating for our community at the Board of Supervisors, or exercising our 1st amendment right to participate in the political process. We believe that undermining the constitutional rights of any individual is inherently wrong,” said Mr. Gowing.
When asked how she would address the cannabis issue if elected, Ms. Capps said that “there’s a place for it here in Santa Barbara County, but not to the level of these floodgates that have been opened.”
Ms. Capps was joined by Carpinteria Unified School Board member Rogelio Delgado, an outspoken critic of the cannabis industry who has thrown his support behind Ms. Capps’ campaign.
“Campaign finance reform was one of the first issues that captivated me as a young adult,” said Ms. Capps. “When I worked in the Clinton White House I worked on McCain-Finegold, and it is a primary reason I am running for County Supervisor, and a big distinction in this race.”