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Somerville officials look to tighten campaign donation oversight

Posted by Jarret Bencks  July 3, 2013 10:31 AM

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Proposed new restrictions on campaign donations by companies seeking public contracts with the city will be considered by officials in Somerville next week.

Alderman President Bill White is calling for individuals who make campaign donations to elected city officials to be required to fill out a financial disclosure form, and that donations be limited for individuals connected to companies looking to win public contracts, purchase city-owned land, receive zoning easements or special permits, or grant money from the city.

White first proposed the new rules in May. The Board of Aldermen's Legislative Matters Committee will begin a review of proposed ordinance changes in a meeting July 9.

State campaign finance laws restrict individual annual donations to $500, but those can quickly add up when a company holds a fundraiser for a particular candidate and gets 10 or 12 employees and their spouses to all give the maximum donation, White said in an aldermen meeting in May.

"That influence, even under Massachusetts campaign law, can run down into local communities," he said. "It doesn't mean that anything is wrong, that anything is illegal necessarily, but something communities can do is stay on top of this."

White said he proposed to have combined donations by employees of companies looking for public contracts or other deals with the city be limited to $300 for city office candidates.

Rebekah Gerwirtz, chairwoman of the Legislative Matters Committee, said she believed passing such a city ordinance is critically important.

"There is so much cyncism about government these days," she said. "Frankly, about local government in particular."

The Legislative Matters Committee meets July 9 at 6 p.m. at the second floor of City Hall.

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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