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Council Considers Fee for Candidate Statements


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By Jorge Casuso

January 17, 2024 -- Local candidates who want the City Clerk to distribute their candidate statement to voters will have to pay more than $1,000, under a staff proposal the City Council will take up Tuesday.

Under the proposed ordinance, Council and Rent Control Board candidates would pay $1,100, while School and College Board candidates would pay $1,200.

In the past, the City has paid the cost of printing, handling, translating and mailing candidate statements that appear in the Supplemental Sample Ballot that Santa Monica voters receive.

The brief staff report to the Council does not give a reason for the new charge, while the proposed ordinance states that the California Elections Code "authorizes local agencies to charge candidates" for the services.

The ordinance states that "the City previously paid for the cost of candidate statements and now desires to require that candidates bear the cost."

The Council first took up the issue in June 2020 during a budget crisis spurred by the coronavirus shutdown.

At the time, staff proposed charging a $1,700 fee "as a cost savings to the City," but the proposed item was never voted on.

Local political activists denounced the proposed charge as a move by the Council -- which was comprised of members of Santa Monica's liberal establishment -- to stifle political opposition at the polls ("Council to Consider Charging for Candidate Statements," June 9, 2020).

Oscar de la Torre -- one of three challengers swept into office in November 2020 as part of a "Change" slate -- argued the fee made it harder for residents to run.

At the time, staff offered several alternatives: The candidates could pay half of the full cost or the Council could use discretionary funds to pay for all or part of the cost.

The staff report for Tuesday's Council meeting does not propose alternative ways of funding or subsidizing the fee.

Instead it notes that "in the event of overpayment and pending the County’s final actual costs, the City shall refund the excess amount to candidates within 30 days of the election.

"In the event of underpayment, the City and corresponding legislative bodies shall pay the balance."

As part of the proposed Elections Code changes, the Council will consider charging a $200 fee for ballot measures "due at the time of filing a Notice of Intent to Circulate an Initiative Petition."

Under the proposed ordinance, "if the sufficiency of the petition is certified within a year of filing the Notice of Intent, then the fee will be reimbursed to the filer."

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