FARMINGTON — The Farmington City Council will discuss a landmark policy tonight that could change the way city elections are run.
A proposed ordinance implementing an official city campaign finance reporting policy would establish policies and procedures for City Council, mayoral and municipal judge candidates to report who contributes to their campaigns, how much money is donated and how that money is spent.
The ordinance will be discussed under new business at tonight's 7 p.m. council meeting at city hall, 800 Municipal Drive, and is scheduled for final action June 25. The city currently has no policy on campaign finance reporting, Mayor Tommy Roberts said in a phone interview Monday morning.
"I support the concept of campaign finance reporting," Roberts said. "It promotes openness. It's another tool by which the public can base their assessments of candidates."
The draft being presented tonight, however, does not appear to go far enough for Roberts or Councilwoman Mary Fischer.
Roberts said he would support adding limits on the amount of money that can be raised and spent.
"I think, in general, people tend to spend too much money in campaigns," he said. "It's not terrible on the local level, but the trends of increased spending have trickled down to (municipal elections)."
Setting campaign finance reporting requirements, limits on contribution levels and limiting donations to individual donors could be beneficial to both the public and to the election process, Roberts said.
"It levels the playing field," he said.
Some constituents have expressed interest in running for public office, but were discouraged by a perception that they would have to spend significant amounts of money to campaign, Roberts said.
Limiting the amount of money that can be spent on campaigns could, "place a greater premium on discussion and debate of the issues," he said.
Political advertisements can often cause more harm than good during the election process, Roberts said.
"I think campaign advertisements tend to overwhelm the potential voter and tend to divert the attention away from issues that should be discussed," he said.
Fischer said she was concerned the ordinance as proposed may not be comprehensive enough to positively affect the election process.
"I think the way we do elections should be completely revamped," she said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "It seems absurd to me that candidates will spend 20, 30, 40 thousand (dollars) on elections. The only effective way of (controlling) election spending is to have it be publicly financed and have a cap of maybe $2,500."
The ordinance as it stands is full of loopholes, Fischer said.
"That someone could come in and spend $50,000 on a city election, it just seems sinful when people are losing their jobs," Fischer said. "I don't think this ordinance is going to hurt anything, but I don't know that it's going to change (the process). When people give you a large contribution, there's always an expectation. It seems to me that public financing is the easiest way to (ensure transparency). I really do not know what the answer is but something has got to change."