Sweetwater School Board to Consider Campaign Finance Reform

Under the current rules, a board member can accept an unlimited amount of money from a contractor seeking or performing work with the district.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCSanDiego
    An image captured in January 2012, at one of the many heated meetings of the Sweetwater trustees.

    The Sweetwater Union High School District will vote on campaign finance reform Tuesday in the wake of a two-year criminal probe into relationships between contractors and South County politicians.

    The community has been persistent in getting the item on the agenda, despite being blocked in the past by the board and superintendent.

    The proposal would limit campaign contributions to $750 for a single election contest for candidates for the board of trustees.

    It also seeks to ban candidates running for school board to take contributions from anyone other than individuals or political party committees.

    If approved, the resolution could shake up board elections in a district that has been historically influenced by the teachers unions and other labor groups, political organizations and the construction industry.

    This comes after three Sweetwater Union High School District board members were accused of accepting thousands of dollars on gifts and meals, allegedly for awarding construction contracts to contributing companies.

    No limits are currently in place. Under the current rules, a board member can accept an unlimited amount of money from a contractor seeking or performing work with the district. For example, during his 2010 reelection campaign, Board President Jim Cartmill accepted a $20,000 contribution from SGI Construction Management, which working at the time for the district under the voter-approved $644 million bond measure.

    The proposed campaign finance rules would do nothing to curb the often big amounts of money spent on behalf of candidates through independent committees. A political party could, for example, spend as much as it wants independently to promote a candidate, as long as the campaign was not coordinated with the candidate.

    The resolution is being considered tonight by the board at the Sweetwater Union High School District’s 6 p.m. meeting, located at 1130 Fifth Avenue.