Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 08/21/2012 02:50:07 PM PDT

A new ordinance approved by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday limits campaign contributions for all candidates for county elected office to $3,900, mirroring campaign-finance limits for state legislators.

The ordinance, which will go before the board again next Tuesday for adoption, also requires candidates and political-action committees to electronically report all contributions and expenditures of more than $10,000. State law requires legislative candidates and political-action committees to electronically report contributions and expenditures of more than $50,000.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford proposed the reforms last year, and her staff has been researching and drafting the ordinance ever since. Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt co-authored the ordinance.

“We recognize that contribution limits are not a panacea,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting. “If there are people, groups, organizations out there who want to do nefarious things with their money, they will find a way to do it.

“But I make this analogy: In this day and time, if we don’t have campaign-contribution limits, and mischief happens in the county, that’s on us. This is a simple, straightforward change that everyone understands, and it’s our responsibility to make it clear to the voters and taxpayers of this county that the Board of Supervisors and our other elected officials cannot be bought by large campaign donors.”

Penalties for violating the county’s campaign-finance laws are fines three times the amount of the illegal contribution or $10,000, whichever is greater.

The county has suffered a long legacy of political corruption. More recently, state and local prosecutors charged three former county officials and a Rancho Cucamonga developer in a far-reaching conspiracy and bribery case.

In that case, prosecutors allege former Supervisor Paul Biane, former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for Supervisor Gary Ovitt, received a collective $300,000 in bribes from developer Jeff Burum, who contributed the money to political- action committees prosecutors allege were secretly controlled by the supervisors who voted to settle a lawsuit with Burum’s Colonies Partners LP for $102 million in November 2006.

Postmus, Biane and Ovitt voted in favor of the settlement. Supervisors Josie Gonzales and Dennis Hansberger dissented.

Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Postmus pleaded guilty to taking a $100,000 bribe from Burum and has agreed to testify against the other defendants in exchange for reduced charges.

All four defendants deny any wrongdoing.

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