Todd Gloria speaking on the need for the referendum reform at the City Council Meeting on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of CityTV
Todd Gloria speaking on the need for the referendum reform at the City Council Meeting on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of CityTV

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted an ordinance designed to let the public know earlier who is funding referendum campaigns, but it will require similar state legislation to prove effective.

The law will, as of Jan. 1, require campaign committees based within the city limits to file a form within 24 hours when someone donates more than $1,000. The filing requirement for contributions of more than $100 will be 10 days.

Additionally, independent expenditures of more than $1,000 will have to be filed within the signing period.

Backers of the campaign law amendments complained that during some recent, hard-fought referendum campaigns, people who were asked to sign petitions couldn’t find out who was funding the two sides until the process was over.

Campaign committees based outside of the city of San Diego will not be subject to the new filing requirements, a loophole noted by several council members.

Councilman Todd Gloria, the main supporter of the law, said there are things that can be done locally to make the referendum process more transparent, while awaiting corresponding action by the state, which would close the loophole.

“I believe the heightened disclosure requirements that we’re considering today are the first step in giving this tool back to average citizens,” Gloria said. He said the current process was “severely flawed.”

Referendum committees will essentially operate under the same rules as those used to elect candidates, he said.

The councilman said he would introduce a separate ordinance later this month that would amend the city’s municipal code to require referendum campaigns to disclose their top donors when they ask people to sign petitions.

Gloria’s office said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has pledged to introduce similar state legislation. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

Recent referendum campaigns over a development proposed for Carmel Valley, an increase in the minimum wage and a zoning plan for Barrio Logan were “heated,” according to Councilman Scott Sherman. Supporters and opponents routinely claimed the other side was financed by money from outside San Diego and accused paid signature gatherers of lying to voters.

When the reform package was initially heard five months ago, there was some discussion about adjusting the threshold for the number of valid signatures it would take to qualify for the ballot. The current target in San Diego is 5 percent of registered voters, or a little over 33,000.

City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said she looked at 33 other charter cities, and 27 percent require 10 percent. Some other municipalities call for 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last mayoral election.

Any change in San Diego’s threshold would be handled separately because it would require a City Charter amendment.

City News Service