Starting Jan. 1, council members may need to pay closer attention to campaign contributions. The change is the result of SB 1439 (Glazer), which expands the application of Government Code Section 84308 (the Levine Act) to elected council members and makes them subject to certain conflict of interest rules.

It is unclear if certain provisions of the new law will apply retroactively to donations received before Jan. 1, 2023. The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is expected to issue an opinion on the issue following a request from the League of California Cities.

Which portion of SB 1439 is at issue?

SB 1439 expands the Levine Act to apply to elected local officials. Among other changes, this bill will disqualify a council member from participating in a proceeding involving a prior campaign donor’s license, permit, or other entitlement for 12 months after the date of a donation exceeding $250. This disqualification is also triggered by the receipt of a donation of $250 or more from any “participant” in a decision.

A participant is broadly defined as any non-party who has a financial interest in the decision and lobbies, testifies, or attempts to influence the outcome. To avoid disqualification, the elected official must return the donation within 30 days from the time that the official knows, or should have known, about “the contribution and the proceeding.”

It is unclear if this provision applies retroactively to donations received in 2022 or if it only pertains to donations received starting in 2023. If the change applies retroactively, affected council members will essentially have no opportunity to cure the disqualification by returning the donation since the 30-day timeframe will have passed.

What is Cal Cities doing?

The FPPC Committee of the Cal Cities City Attorneys Department recently submitted a letter requesting the FPPC issue an opinion clarifying if donations over $250 received before Jan. 1, 2023, would disqualify elected officials under SB 1439. The FPPC granted the request and instructed its staff to present an analysis and recommendation for a draft opinion at its Nov. 17 meeting.

Under the FPPC’s procedures, the staff memorandum will be made available two weeks prior to the hearing. City officials may submit comments no later than five days before the hearing.

For more information about SB 1439, please contact Legislative Affairs Lobbyist Johnnie Pina.