San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, left, and City Councilmember Fred Terry, center, listen while Councilmember John Thomaides talks about campaign finance limitations for San Marcos city council campaigns. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
The San Marcos City Council talked about directing the staff to draft an ordinance limiting individual campaign contributions Tuesday night, then decided in a deeply split vote to drop the matter.
The discussion at times turned personal for San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, who raised $100,000 for her successful 2008 re-election campaign. At moments, the council’s drift appeared headed for a 4-3 vote to draft an ordinance, but Councilmember Kim Porterfield decided to vote against the action after Narvaiz voiced staunch opposition.
The council voted, 4-3 to not draft the ordinance. Councilmembers Fred Terry and newly seated Councilmember Ryan Thomason voted with Narvaiz and Porterfield to oppose the direction. Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, Chris Jones and John Thomaides voted to pursue an ordinance limiting individual political contributions.
“The citizens should have the right to determine how much they want to give,” Narvaiz said. “… For me it is personal because (campaign contribution limits) didn’t arise until after (reports of campaign contributions for the 2008 San Marcos city elections came about).”
In her 2008 re-election, Narvaiz took in $14,500 from entrepreneur Terry Gilmore alone, plus several $5,000 contributions from individuals, including some from out-of-state.
An agitated and somewhat heated Narvaiz alluded to recent headlines highlighting her campaign contributions, including opinions from former San Marcos mayors.
Last fall, the San Marcos Local News (then known as Newstreamz) ran a series of stories illustrating that recent mayoral campaigns in San Marcos tend to be more expensive than such campaigns in comparable Texas cities, with Narvaiz reaching a high-water mark for fundraising in 2008.
Narvaiz went on to say that if limits were approved, she would work hard to produce broader legislation to include limits on in-kind contributions, phone banking, volunteer time and expenditures.
Thomaides said several San Marcos citizens urged him to encourage campaign contribution limits. Thomaides and Bose placed the item on the agenda. Items can be placed on the city council agenda either by the city staff, the mayor, or any two councilmembers in tandem.
“This is by no means generated at us or any former councilmembers,” Thomaides said.
Thomaides said his interest in the proposal came about because there isn’t any legislation regulating campaign contributions in San Marcos. Thomaides said he also wished to diminish perceptions of undue influence on city council votes. Thomaides proposed capping contributions by any one person to $2,500, much like the federal standard that stands at $2,400 by an individual. Thomaides said he would also be in favor of capping the amount at $500.
“I don’t believe in limiting what one person can donate,” Thomason said in his first meeting after beating academic advisor Lisa Marie Coppoletta in a run-off election last month.
Porterfield initially said she was “not opposed to it” if the limit stood at about $2,500 for an individual, even suggesting that councilmembers do research on the matter and not put it on the backs of staff. Later Porterfield said she no longer wanted any discussion on campaign contribution limits if the legislation weren’t to include the aspects Narvaiz suggested, such as in-kind contributions, phone banking, volunteer time, and expenditures.
Jones said he doesn’t believe there is any corruption in San Marcos city government, though he cautioned that certain councilmembers cater to specific groups in town, “and typically, if you follow the money trail, they (the group being catered to) are the ones funding (the councilmembers when candidates for office) … I am in support of (limits) and it helps with perception issues. It will have a positive impact in the future.”
Jones said contribution limits would help candidates for office expand their base, “instead of having five or six friends fund campaigns.”
Narvaiz said limiting campaign contributions limits freedom and San Marcos residents do not support the notion, pointing to the lightly attended 2009 city election for evidence.
“The person who campaigned on (limiting campaign contributions) the most didn’t even make the run-off,” Narvaiz said about Shaune Maycock, who drew 23.91 percent in the three-way Nov. 3 election that resulted in Thomason and Coppoletta advancing ahead of him to the December run-off. Thomason took 960 of 1,924 votes in November, finishing three votes short of winning the election outright.
Councilmembers in opposition to the measure mentioned concerns that campaign contribution limits would only benefit incumbents seeking re-election. Narvaiz said political newcomers spend a lot more money making themselves recognizable in city politics, adding that contribution limits would only unlevel the playing field, benefitting any incumbent in a race.
“If anyone wants to make a $25,000 contribution to an incumbent or non-incumbent, I don’t think that’s okay,” Thomaides said.Email | Print