For the second time in two years, Akron City Council has voted to increase the campaign contribution limits for council and mayoral candidates.
Council on Monday raised the limits for donations to mayoral and at-large council candidates from $450 to $650 and for ward council candidates from $200 to $400. The higher limits will apply to next year’s election when the 10 ward and three at-large seats will be on the ballot.
Akron council voted in February 2011 to boost the limits for city-wide races from $300 to $450 and for ward contests from $100 to $200. This was after a charter change approved by voters the previous November that required council to pass legislation setting new limits and to revisit the limits every two years, including having public hearings. Some thought council’s existing limits were too low.
Council members approved the latest increase to contribution limits on the same night that they passed a resolution urging state and federal representatives to pass legislation limiting the rights of corporations to contribute to federal candidates without being required to disclose these donations, a right permitted under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
“It’s hypocritical to have these two ordinances,” said Councilman Mike Williams, who unsuccessfully challenged Mayor Don Plusquellic last year in a historic race that saw more than $500,000 spent by the candidates and a group that supported Plusquellic. “The limits as they are, are fine without modification. We need to keep as much money out of campaigns as possible.”
Williams and Councilman Bruce Kilby voted against the legislation, with the other 11 council members voting for it.
No one spoke at two public hearings council held Monday on the legislation.
Council members who favored the higher contribution amounts pointed out that Akron’s limits still are significantly less than several other big Ohio cities, such as Cincinnati and Cleveland that allow individual contributions of $1,000. Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown don’t have limits, according to information provided to council by the law department.
Councilman Garry Moneypenny, the new council president who left council and recently returned, said $200 — the original limit for ward council races — no longer goes as far as it used to when candidates are buying campaign signs and literature and paying for robocalls.
“This is well within what the charter allows,” Moneypenny said.
If council wanted to raise limits for next year’s council contests, this had to be done before the end of this year. The Akron mayoral seat won’t be on the ballot until 2015.
Council passed the resolution about campaign spending by corporations at the urging of several Akron residents who are part of an effort to lobby state and federal representatives to approve limits in light of the record-setting spending in federal elections this year. Council members said they favor limiting campaign spending by corporations but don’t want to impede on corporations’ other free-speech rights.
“We have to address this issue,” Williams said.
In other business, council:
• Approved legislation that raised the fee property owners will pay for street lighting and street cleaning services in 2013. The average residential property owner with a 50-foot-wide lot will pay about $1 more a month or $12 more a year, said Public Service Director Rick Merolla.
The city will use the additional money — about $800,000 a year — to replace snow and ice removal equipment, Merolla said.
• Recognized Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth, who retired Dec. 1 after 10 years with the city.
Several council members praised Lieberth for his service, including his contributions to downtown and many other efforts.
“Akron is a much better place today because of you,” said Councilman Marco Sommerville, who was sitting for the first time in many years in the horseshoe, rather than the president’s chair.
Sommerville, who represents Ward 3, announced last week that he is resigning from council Jan. 1 as part of a Cabinet shuffle caused by Lieberth’s retirement. He will become planning director, replacing John Moore who will take over for Merolla. Merolla will be the new deputy mayor/chief of staff. Council will choose a replacement for the remainder of Sommerville’s term.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.