Councilman calls for doubling campaign contribution caps in city races

Proposal: Raising individual donor limits to $1K for City Council, $2K for mayor

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said raising campaign contribution caps is a voter engagement issue.

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio city councilman wants to double the cap for campaign contributions in City Council and mayoral elections.

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez filed a Council Consideration Request on Thursday, proposing the City Council vote to double the limit on individual campaign donations per contribution cycle from $500 to $1,000 in City Council races and $1,000 to $2,000 in mayoral races. The lengths of the contribution cycles vary and are based on a period of time before or between elections.

In the background for his CCR, Pelaez wrote that other local races in Bexar County, or other Texas cities, have higher limits or even none at all.

Pelaez said raising the contribution limits is a voter engagement issue. With less money available, he said, candidates focus their efforts on voters who are most likely to turn out. That means neglecting others.

"What we are guaranteeing is that we are not talking to potential new voters, and one way to guarantee that somebody doesn't come out to vote is to not talk to them," Pelaez told KSAT on Friday.

Both he and Laura Barberena, a campaign consultant who has worked for Pelaez and other local candidates, say the cost of campaigning has gone up since San Antonio's caps were put in place in 2004.

In addition to the price of creating shirts, signs and assorted campaign literature, Barberena said the cost of labor has also increased.

"So for instance, right now, the city pays a living wage, which is $15 an hour," Barberena said. "And if council members aren't paying their campaign workers a living wage, it seems a bit hypocritical."

The previous City Council voted down a proposal in June 2018 to raise the City Council and mayoral campaign donation limits to $750 and $1,500, respectively.

This time around, Pelaez's CCR is supported by District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino, District 4 Councilwoman Adrianna Rocha Garcia, District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda.

However, four of the five council members who voted against an increase in 2018 are still on the dais: District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, District 9 Councilman John Courage and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry.

Speaking to KSAT by phone Friday, Courage said he is willing to discuss any issue and will evaluate it based on its merits.

"If there are some merits I hadn't considered before, I'll certainly, you know, consider 'em at this time. But I think, like I said, it's just door-to-door campaigning is the way to win elections and not depending on raising a lot of money," Courage said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg voted in favor of the 2018 proposal to increase the individual donor limits to $750 and $1,500, which was put forward by a campaign finance task force. But a spokesman said Friday the mayor's opinion was that the process should be led by public committees, such as the Ethics Review Board, not the City Council.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.