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Time’s Up for Clean Money in November

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday June 06, 2006

The Berkeley City Council last month asked for the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission to analyze a proposal to place public financing for the mayor’s office on the November ballot. But the council directive has been stalled by City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, who says her office has insufficient time to prepare the ballot measure. 

The commission had planned a special June 7 meeting to address the issue, but, according to FCPC Chair Eric Weaver, a Friday afternoon e-mail from Deputy City Attorney Kristy van Herick advised against the meeting. 

“It seems to be a political decision by the city attorney,” said Sam Ferguson, a Berkeley resident who has been active on the question of “clean money” elections. “That seems to be going against the will and the advice of the City Council,” Ferguson said. 

At its May 23 meeting, on the recommendation of Mayor Tom Bates, the council modified a ballot measure proposal written by councilmembers Darryl Moore, Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington to allow public financing for all elected Berkeley offices. The amended proposal only referred public financing of the mayor’s race to the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. 

“The city attorney will be reporting to City Council at its meeting on June 13 that there is insufficient time to review and prepare this item for the November 2006 election. This will likely make any such special election meeting moot,” the e-mail said. 

The committee, which will nevertheless meet and discuss the issue in regular session June 22, will make a recommendation to the City Council regarding the public financing of elections, after which the council must vote on the ballot measure before its mid-July recess. 

In a phone interview Monday morning, Albuquerque said at first she had thought there would be a faster way to write the ballot measure, but it was complicated by the fact that the measure would amend Berkeley election law. The modifications would have to be cross-referenced and integrated into the city charter, she said.  

“Proponents underplay the complexity,” she added. 

“Nobody’s saying it’s simple; but there’s still a month and a half to do it,” Ferguson countered. 

Learning from a reporter that the City Attorney planned to put the measure on hold, Councilmember Darryl Moore said, “That’s ridiculous. I thought we referred it within the deadline.”  

Moore said he thought the city attorney should have told the council at the time that there was a problem. 

If the city attorney’s office can’t do it, it is still possible for the city to contract out to have it written, Moore said. 

Mayor Bates agreed, saying, “If it does go forward, we can contract out.” 

At the same time, the mayor said, “I’m not wild about going forward with it,” since the ballot measure’s supporters continue to call for public financing for all offices and not simply for the office of the mayor. 

Bates said he did not want to see a ballot measure to publicly finance all offices in Berkeley since it would not be backed by the full council and would not have a strong campaign behind it. He said his fear is based on a possible backlash caused by the statewide public financing measure being put forward by the California Nurse’s Association for the November ballot. 

“There’s incredible opposition to that measure,” he said, noting that there will likely be a very negative statewide campaign against it. 

Ferguson said, however, that while he and other supporters prefer the ballot measure to include all Berkeley electoral races, if the council’s final vote is to recommend the narrower mayor-only public financing, “We are willing to support whatever goes. It’s not about a difference of opinion. It’s about getting it on the ballot in the first place.”  

Moreover, he said, responding to the mayor’s notion that the CNA ballot measure might cause heavily-financed negative campaigning against public financing: “Berkeley voters are too intelligent. They will see through that.”