Joe Nelson and Neil Nisperos, Staff Writers
Created: 07/24/2012 08:00:34 PM PDT

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Tuesday a bill that will allow the state Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce new campaign finance rules in San Bernardino County.

It is the first time the state’s political watchdog will contract with a county to enforce its campaign contribution limits.

“It is unprecedented, but it is consistent with what our mission is ” FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said Tuesday. “I think it is appropriate for the FPPC to be the totally neutral entity that enforces campaign finance laws and other campaign reform throughout the state. Whether it be at the state or local level.”

In September, Supervisor Janice Rutherford proposed that the county establish campaign contribution limits uniform to those of state legislators: $3,900 from a single source, and contracting with the FPPC to enforce those rules in lieu of a county ethics commission.

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, introduced the bill proposing the FPPC be allowed to contract with the county.

“Maybe I’m being too optimistic but I think other counties will look at this and say this is a very smart policy that San Bernardino (County) is doing with this partnership,” Cook said. “You have a neutral service, if you will, and also, it saves money.”

Now, the county has to negotiate its contract with the FPPC. The cost has yet to be determined, Rutherford said.

“We’re starting from scratch. They’ve never done this before, so we’re going to work with them to create this new program,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford said she plans to bring her proposal to limit campaign contributions to $3,900 back before the board on Aug. 21 for consideration.

Critics of Rutherford’s proposal say it is too broad, creates another layer of bureaucratic red tape and that the proposed campaign contribution limits are still too high. Bob Stern, a national expert in government ethics, said the $2,500 campaign contribution limit the federal government sets for the president, Congress and the U.S. Senate would be more acceptable.

Cook said there’s still room for improvement.

“I’m sure because it’s new and exploratory we’re gonna come back and take a look at it and make some changes if it’s not working,” he said.

The Board of Supervisors has opposed recommendations by the Grand Jury and local political watchdogs to form an ethics commission, saying it is too costly and duplicative.

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