San Bernardino County on Tuesday became the first county in California to contract with the state Fair Political Practices to enforce the county's new campaign finance ordinance.

The ordinance, which takes effect Jan. 1 and was approved by the Board of Supervisors in August, limits campaign contributions for all candidates seeking local elected office to $3,900, mirroring campaign-finance limits for state legislators.

The county's two-year contract with the FPPC frees up $493,296 from the general fund to use in combating unlawful campaign finance practices. It allows the FPPC to:

Conduct audits on candidates running for county supervisor, sheriff, assessor, district attorney, auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector, and superintendent of schools.

Serve as the civil and administrative prosecutor for violations of the ordinance.

In a statement Tuesday, Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who along with former First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt proposed the ordinance in September 2011, said that contracting with the FPPC ensures that the county's campaign finance reform laws will be applied effectively and objectively.

"Why add another layer of county government when we already have an independent state agency that is qualified and capable of enforcing our campaign finance law? We can save money and bring greater efficiency by contracting with the state," Rutherford said in her statement.

For years, the county has come under fire by the Grand Jury and political watchdogs for its lack of campaign finance laws.


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Prior to the passage of the ordinance, supervisors were allowed to collect unlimited contributions from donors.

The new ordinance also requires candidates seeking elected office and the political action committees supporting them to electronically file their contributions and expenditures if they exceed $10,000 per election cycle.

Violators can be fined up to three times the contribution amount not properly reported or $10,000, whichever is greater. They can also face civil and administrative penalties.

The FPPC will monitor its workload during the next election cycle to see if additional staff is needed given its new responsibilities involving San Bernardino County, said Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC's enforcement division.

He said the union between the county and the FPPC is a good marriage because the FPPC is removed from local politics and can assure review of local and state laws in a neutral manner.

"It's right in line with what we already do at the state level," he said.

County spokesman David Wert said the county will pay the FPPC on an ongoing basis for the work it does, and the FPPC will bill the county for that work.

"It won't cost the county anything until we start getting bills," Wert said.


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