With an eye toward a likely contentious municipal election next year, the Hayward City Council is exploring a proposal, its backers say, that will bring greater campaign transparency to its city elections.

On Tuesday, Hayward City Attorney Michael Lawson detailed changes to the election code that could require candidates and independent expenditure committees to print the top four donors to its campaign on election materials, such as direct-mailers.

The plan is essentially the DISCLOSE Act, a noteworthy bill that stalled in the State Assembly last year, in part, due to opposition from labor unions. “It’s not necessary to be a policy wonk to understand the influence of money in politics at the national, state and local level,” said Lawson.

Hayward has stringent campaign finance rules already on its books. Candidates who accept spending limits can receive individual contributions up to $1,295 with a spending cap of $66,009. Those who do not can receive unlimited contributions, but only up to $250 per individual. Over the last decade, no candidate has declined to follow the voluntary limits, said Lawson.

Tuesday’s discussion was scheduled as a work session item, meaning no definitive action was made by the council. But there was a clear direction by the council to staff for greater scrutiny on the outside influence of special interest committees, an issue which will likely dominate the 2016 City Council elections featuring four at-large seats.

Union officials from SEIU Local 1021, which represents over 300 city employees, vowed to defeat each Hayward councilmember who voted for the imposition of a five percent wage decrease on city workers in February 2014. Four months later, the union helped one of two labor-backed candidates win a seat on the council, but in the process spent over $100,000 in independent expenditures. The specter of big money determining the 2016 election in Hayward may be on the minds of some councilmembers in local races that typically cost less than a fifth of what SEIU spent last summer.

“That is absolutely appalling that a city of this size has an election where people spend that type of money,” Councilmember Marvin Peixoto said of the union’s outlay last year. “And I’m telling you, the average person in Hayward, they can’t afford to compete with that.” Peixoto voted for imposition, but still won re-election last year, while spending next to nothing in campaign expenditures.
Others who may be targeted by the unions in 2016, include Councilmembers Al Mendall and Greg Jones, and to a lesser degree, Francisco Zermeno.

Councilmember Elisa Marquez, who is a likely candidate next year, expressed discomfort with the political nature of the agenda item Tuesday night. “It feels very self-serving and I question our ability to be objective in making those recommendations.” Marquez was appointed last July to serve the remaining two years of Barbara Halliday’s council term after being elected mayor.

Following the council’s direction, city staff will bring back a more detailed piece of legislation for the council’s approval in coming months.

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Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.