Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Created: 09/28/2011 06:48:04 PM PDT

A proposal for campaign finance reform in San Bernardino County has raised the eyebrows of government ethics advocates and experts, who question its reliance on the state to enforce campaign finance limits.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors, for the first time in its history, directed the County Administrative Office and County Counsel to begin drafting an ordinance that would limit campaign contributions to candidates seeking elected office in the county.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford has also proposed that the state Fair Political Practices Commission enforce the local ordinance, which would require passage of special legislation. The FPPC currently does not have the authority to enforce local ordinances, said Tara Stock, the FPPC’s legislative coordinator.

Rutherford has proposed that campaign contribution limits in the county be modeled after limits established for state legislators: $3,900 from individuals and $7,800 from small committees per election cycle.

Political reform experts and advocates are critical of the proposal, saying it would likely be more cost effective and efficient to enforce campaign contribution limits at the local level.

“If they can hire the state to enforce this, why can’t they spend that money to set up an ethics committee?” asked Burrel Woodring, foreman of the county’s 2008-2009 civil Grand Jury. “In my opinion, we should keep it local and set up our own ethics committee.”

The 2008-2009 Grand Jury reviewed campaign contributions made to elected and appointed officials over a five-year period and found that in 2007, more than $2.3 million was contributed to the five county supervisors. Contributions ranged from $200 to $400,000 and were made by individuals, special interest groups, land developers, businesses, employee associations and others.

County officials have long maintained that it is too expensive to have an ethics committee in place, despite the reported success of ethics committees in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose counties, among others.

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said the county can just as easily police its own ordinance, or hire a law firm to enforce it. Another option, he said, would be to include language in the ordinance allowing county officials or citizens to take legal action if an individual violates the ordinance.

The bottom line, he said, is that there is no need for the county to take such extensive measures to implement campaign finance reform in the county.

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