The historically scandal-plagued county of San Bernardino has taken a step in the right direction. Its Board of Supervisors took the unprecedented step of asking the state's ethical watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), to enforce the its campaign finance rules. Last week Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill authorizing that setup.
While the county's plan is unique, so is its history of corruption. It was only last year when three former county employees, including former County Supervisor Bill Postmus, were indicted as part of an inquiry focusing on misappropriation of public funds and bribery.
The county's leaders have signaled their plan to enact campaign contribution limits of $3,900 per contributor. This is the same limit imposed on contributions to state legislators. The limit might be a bit high for county elections, but this plan is better than nothing. County officials will also have the opportunity to make changes down the road.
The FPPC's oversight will help to ensure that San Bernardino's contribution limits are more than symbolic. The history of campaign finance legislation teaches us that rules are evaded without proper enforcement.
While other cities and counties have their own ethics commissions, it seems to be that the FPPC is the right agency for the job in San Bernardino. It was created to, among other things, implement, administer, and enforce California's Political Reform Act. The agency is under strong leadership and they are thinking broadly and strategically about how best to promote civil engagement and the integrity of electoral and legislative processes.
San Bernardino's decision to contract with the FPPC will hopefully help revitalize public confidence in their elected officials. After years of scandals in which public officials seemed to make a mockery of the idea of public service, this appears to be a positive change.