In another effort to drive the pay-for-play culture out of Southwestern College, the governing board passed a campaign finance reform initiative proposed by trustee Humberto Peraza that limits political contributions to $1,000. Based on city and community college models, Peraza said the reform is an attempt to minimize the influence construction companies and architects can have on board elections and district decision making.
“I support reform, SCEA supports it,” said Andy MacNeill, president of the college faculty union. “It makes sense with what we just went through. I think it sends a message to the community that we’re done playing around. The people who did the pay-for-play are gone and we are here to be responsible.”
Peraza said the pre-election season was the best time to pass the policy in light of SWC’s history.
“Somebody got a $30,000 check in the last election,” said Peraza. “That’s overboard. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”
Peraza, who is up for re-election this cycle along with trustee Dr. Jean Roesch, said the timing and the intent of this policy are exactly what the community needs to hear from its governing board.
“It’s about transparency and rebuilding trust in the community and showing them, ‘Hey, we’re trying to do it right’,” he said. “Campaign finance reform is something that that community wanted to see changed. We are coming up to an election time and I thought this is something we need to try to input before the next election. This isn’t something we should wait on, this is something we should do immediately.”
Roesch, the only board member to oppose the item, said she disagreed with Peraza.
“I don’t think it’s necessary and I really don’t agree with it,” she said. “There are some people under this policy that wouldn’t be able to raise much because they don’t belong to organizations that could really provide that kind of financing.”
Unions, which often support candidates, stand to lose a lot by this new policy, but MacNeill said the faculty union still favored its passage. He said unions would be able to lend their support by helping candidates connect with the community, which, he said, is more important anyway.
“Any candidate we are going to support we would get plugged into our network,” said MacNeill. “I think there are people who may need to run again in the future and they are relying on donors and contributors who gave more than what the policy will be limiting it to. People have their pots of money that they rely on and they might rely on those big amounts rather than a whole bunch of little amounts. And I think they’re probably worried about having to use a lot of their own money. I think if you have a good message, that message should carry itself.”
The governing board openly discussed the issue of campaign finance reform at its monthly meeting to the praise of community members who said they are happy to see the board has stopped having these discussions behind closed doors. Chula Vista resident Nancy Stubbs said the issue of campaign finance reform is a crucial one at this point in time.
“This is a pivotal next step in earning back the trust in the community,” she said. “The pay-to-play culture, whether perception or reality, must end now. This is a very real part of that perception of corruption. That was the past, it’s time to move forward. It may be easier to take money from vendors but they are far removed from the community that you represent.”
Board President Norma Hernandez and Trustee Tim Nader expressed concerns about the initiative’s enforceability, which he said is almost non-existent.
“I passionately believe the campaign finance reform on every level in our country is necessary,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court majority has really tied our hands as far as what we can do, to the extent that we aren’t already tied by the fact that we are a community college and not a city.”
Very few community colleges in the state have enacted policies like this one and there is little precedent to foreshadow the consequences of enacting such a policy. Nader said he believes an initiative without enforcement would really cripple the honest and help the criminals.
“There’s no consequence if you violate the policy. None,” he said. “We can’t fine you or throw you in jail. We reward those who are willing to break the policy and penalize those try to do the most ethical, high-road approach.”
But SWC graduate and community member William Perno said he is looking to the board to send a message.
“Your actions tonight can go a long way to restoring trust in the community,” said Perno. “I hope this item will serve as the catalyst for other local governing boards to also enact campaign contribution limits. You are fixing the problems of the past, this is an opportunity to fix the potential problems of the future.”