Overview of County of San Diego Local Campaign Finance Ordinance

FAQs for Candidates and Local Measures

Potential candidates should be aware that, in addition to the requirements of state law regarding campaigns, the County of San Diego has passed its own transparency ordinance applicable to candidates for County elections.

San Diego County has a specific campaign finance ordinance, called the San Diego County Election Campaign Finance and Control Ordinance (San Diego County Code of Regulatory Ordinances, Sec. 32.901 et seq.). A general overview of the ordinance is below. It should be noted that this overview is not comprehensive, and reference must be made to the actual ordinance for details and specifics. The text of the ordinance governs over the information presented here.

The purpose of this ordinance is to place limits on campaign contributions; to prohibit certain contributions to develop a broader base of political efficacy; to limit the use of loans and credit in the financing of county election campaigns; and to encourage the public to participate as candidates in elections by simplifying local regulations, among other matters. The law defines a candidate, county elections, elective county offices, and other terms. The District Attorney is the enforcement authority for the ordinance, which carries penalties of potential misdemeanor liability and a fine of at least $500 for knowing or willful violations.

Online filing with the Registrar of Voters is required of candidates and committees and all other persons who are required pursuant to state law to file a campaign statement with the County that has received contributions or made expenditures of $10,000 or more. The ordinance sets forth individual and political party committee campaign contribution limits, which are adjusted for inflation. The current limits are stated on the Registrar of Voters’ website.

The ordinance allows candidates to raise contributions for the general election prior to the primary election, as long as the contributions are set aside for the general election. If the candidate does not qualify for the general election, general election funds must be refunded on a pro rata basis, minus specified expenses. However, a candidate can only accept contributions for an election after that election not to exceed net debts.

Candidates can carry over contributions from one election to another election for the same elective office. A candidate need not allocate surplus contributions after a primary election if the candidate will be in the general election, and the candidate can accept contributions from the same contributors for the general election without regard to their primary election contributions.

If a candidate qualified to participate in the primary election, but their office will not be voted on until the general election pursuant to San Diego Charter Section 401.3, that candidate nonetheless could receive contributions for the primary election until the Registrar of Voters announced that no primary election would be held for that office. Upon this announcement, contributions for the primary election need not be returned but can be carried over if otherwise permissible.

Organizational contributions are limited to professional corporations that include one individual or a political party, or to committees organized solely to support or oppose County measures.

The cost of internal communications are not exempt from reporting requirements.

A candidate cannot personally loan their campaign over $100,000 and may not charge interest on any such loan. A candidate cannot spend or contribute more than $100,000 of personal funds for the election unless the candidate provides written notice and deposits the funds as specified in the ordinance in advance of the election. The candidate’s opponent can raise equal funds above the contribution limits.

Any person who provides services in connection with a campaign must do so at their normal rate, and shall not refuse to disclose expenditures incurred.

This overview does not provide legal advice. The text of the ordinance governs over this overview.