Rader Proposes Campaign Finance Limits For “Wild West” Local Races

No rules limit campaign donations to candidates for local office, in Lakewood. City Council member Tristan Rader (at-large) wants to change that.

At the January 22 council meeting, Rader introduced proposals for local campaign finance limits, and for a new commission to police campaign finance and other government ethics issues.

“This is a proposal that is intended to look forward, and ensure that local government remains responsive to people, not big donors,” Rader said.

Rader’s proposal would limit donations to local campaigns—currently subject to no limits—at the federal campaign contribution limit of $2,700. Additionally, Rader proposes an embryonic public-financing component. Based on a state tax provision, this would earn small donations a local tax credit of up to $50 per year.

The proposal would also prohibit candidates for a local office from seeking or accepting funds from that office’s employees.

Transparency provisions and fines would reinforce the campaign finance rules, along with a citizen ethics commission appointed to oversee the entire system. Rader proposes a seven-member commission, empowered to promote ethics policies through education, reporting, and investigation of complaints, and to study and propose further ethics rules if warranted.

Lakewood’s Third Amended Charter, approved in the November 2017 election, introduced general ethical standards but also included explicit provision for council to go further.

Local attorney Andy Meyer helped draft the amended charter, and said at the January 22 council meeting that “I see this legislation as the realization of much of what we envisioned” in the charter changes.

Meyer added that with regard to campaign finance, “it is really a Wild West standard right now,” in Lakewood, and that he supports this proposal for reform.

Rader says that he drew upon the work of other communities which have implemented similar reforms. Many cities in other states have created local ethics commissions, and a growing number of Ohio cities have adopted local campaign finance limits.

Campaign finance rules have come up in Lakewood already, at least once. In 2010, Ward 2 council member Tom Bullock introduced a proposal for expanded transparency in campaigns’ reporting; safeguards against fundraising from city employees; and study preparatory to a campaign finance limit ordinance.

That proposal ran into a wall of opposition from colleagues, including two other council members who denounced it in an open letter.

Mayor Mike Summers, who was also on city council in 2010, has criticized the new proposals in a statement to cleveland.com.

But Bullock, now an at-large council member, thanked Rader for reintroducing the issue during the January 22 meeting. “Frankly it’s egregious that there are no [campaign finance] limits for municipalities, generally,” Bullock said.

Council member Meghan George (at-large) also praised Rader’s proposal. Council president Sam O’Leary (ward 2) said he was “looking forward to a good discussion.”

Council referred both of Rader’s proposed ordinances to the Committee of the Whole. A schedule for committee discussions has yet to be announced, but Rader says he will provide updates on his web site and social media, and encourages the public to be part of this debate.

Matt Kuhns

Matt Kuhns is a freelance graphic designer, and occasional author.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 2:00 PM, 02.05.2019