An article by Joshua G. Genser, Attorney-at-Law, Genser & Watkins LLP
The Richmond City Council has passed an ordinance that prohibits Councilpersons from voting on a matter if any interested party donated more than $250 to that Councilperson’s campaign within the previous year. It is very important that you know of and understand this new ordinance, for it creates, in effect, a $250 campaign contribution limit.
Let’s say that you gave $500 to your favorite candidate for City Council, and your candidate wins. Then your neighbor applies to the City to add a story onto his house, to which you object. The Planning Commission makes a decision that one of you dislikes, and there is filed an appeal to the City Council. At the City Council hearing on the issue, the City Councilperson that you supported cannot participate nor vote, because you have a financial interest in the matter before the Council and you gave her more than $250. In other words, your expression of support has deprived you of the right to have one of your duly elected Councilpersons act as a Councilperson on your issue.
As you may have already figured out, this ordinance is actually a ploy by the Richmond Progressive Alliance to put at a disadvantage candidates supported by business interests. You can support your candidate with thousands of dollars worth of volunteer time without disqualifying him from voting on your issue, but if you write too large a check, you’re out of luck. The RPA, which doesn’t have a lot of money but has a pretty good corps of volunteers, thus, can enjoy unlimited support from its supporters, whereas businesspeople, who don’t have the time to devote to campaigns because they have to run their businesses, cannot express their support financially.
Fortunately, careful planning can avoid the problem. Firstly, the ordinance provides that your candidate can participate in your issue if he or she returns the excess contribution before the meeting, and doesn’t collect additional contributions for three months thereafter. So, if you have given more than $250 to a candidate and then find yourself with an issue before the City Council, contact the Councilperson well in advance of the meeting and inform him or her of the opportunity to regain the right to participate by returning to you your contribution in excess of $250.
Secondly, the prohibition applies only to direct contributions. That means that you can still support your candidate financially, as long as you don’t donate more than $250 directly to his or her campaign. Instead, you can spend your money, yourself, or you can contribute it to a PAC or independent expenditure committee which is supporting your candidate.
RichPAC has endorsed Nat Bates, Bea Roberson and Gary Bell for City Council. Nate Bates has been on the City Council for many years, and has consistently supported economic development. Gary Bell is a former Richmond City Councilperson, and he was the only voice on the Council raising questions about the accuracy of the City’s books before the great financial crisis of 2006. Bea Roberson is running for public office for the first time, but she has been deeply involved with her neighborhood council and the Neighborhood Coordinating Council and has been a voice of reason at the dais at City council meetings. RichPAC believes that these three, if elected, will turn Richmond’s City Council into an effective force for economic development. So, give generously to RichPAC this elections season and less, unfortunately, to your candidates, directly.
You know that people vote for candidates with whom they’d like to share a beer? Well, plan on sharing a beer with the candidates RichPAC is supporting on September 27, 2012, between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. This free event will be held in the parking lot at 200 S. Garrard Boulevard, Richmond. Look for more information on this special event next week.