Sacramento mayoral candidates Angelique Ashby and Darrell Steinberg square off at a Chamber of Commerce sponsored event at the Crocker Art Museum. Mayoral candidates Tony Lopez and Russell Rawlings were not invited. Ed Fletcher The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento mayoral candidates Angelique Ashby and Darrell Steinberg square off at a Chamber of Commerce sponsored event at the Crocker Art Museum. Mayoral candidates Tony Lopez and Russell Rawlings were not invited. Ed Fletcher The Sacramento Bee

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City Beat

Ashby says most of Steinberg war chest banned in Sacramento mayor’s race

By Ryan Lillis

rlillis@sacbee.com

March 29, 2016 05:21 PM

UPDATED March 30, 2016 07:15 AM

Sacramento Councilwoman Angelique Ashby took aim Tuesday at mayoral rival Darrell Steinberg’s huge campaign war chest, saying city contribution limits prevent him from using most of the $1.4 million he raised for a potential lieutenant governor’s race.

That runs counter to what city officials have said for months. City Attorney James Sanchez issued a memo in December stating that the code cited by Ashby does not apply, and he reiterated that opinion in an interview Tuesday.

Two city residents wrote in a letter Monday that city campaign laws restrict Steinberg to using just $165,000 from his state account. The letter was sent by city police union Vice President Paul Brown and small-business owner Jesus Arredondo, both of whom include “Ashby for Mayor 2016” on their signatures.

The campaign quoted a section of the city code that regulates how much candidates for mayor can raise during “off-election years” – years outside election cycles. The code states that mayoral candidates are limited to accepting contributions totaling up to $55,000 during those off-cycle years.

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As a result, the Ashby campaign said Steinberg should only be permitted to use $55,000 he raised in 2012, 2013 and 2014 for his lieutenant governor account, for the total of $165,000. Steinberg, a former state Senate leader and city councilman, did not raise money in 2015 for that account. Sanchez’s office sent a memo to the city clerk, the city manager and the City Council in December on the topic of transferring campaign funds from state accounts to city accounts. The memo said candidates could move money as long as the contributions were below the city’s limits for individual donations.

The memo briefly touched on whether money raised for statewide office in off-election years can be transferred to city campaigns. In a footnote, the city attorney’s office wrote that contributions are considered filed with the city on the date they are transferred from statewide accounts – not when they were originally received. The footnote also said that off-cycle limits do not apply in this case because the transfer would be made during the primary election cycle.

Sanchez said in an interview Tuesday that Steinberg is not limited by the off-cycle restriction because “you look at when the transfer is made, not when the state contribution was received.” He said he expects his office to issue a formal response to the Ashby letter within 24 hours.

The Steinberg campaign said it has received legal opinions – including the city attorney memo and from its own legal team – stating the transfer of the lieutenant governor campaign money was permitted. Steinberg is expected to transfer the money to his mayoral campaign.

“It’s well established and perfectly appropriate for Darrell to use these funds to communicate his candidacy for Mayor – period,” Steinberg campaign spokesman Jason Kinney said. “I love March Madness, but it’s way early in the calendar for silly campaign stunts like this one.”

In a press release issued with the Ashby letter on Monday, Brown, the police union official, said the city’s campaign laws “were put in place to protect the public good, and prevent candidates from gaming the system with millions in contributions.”

The release called the transfer of the entire campaign amount “illegal” and included some of the most critical comments of Steinberg from the Ashby campaign to date.

“During his time in the Senate, Darrell Steinberg has raised an unprecedented amount of money from special interests from around the state,” Arredondo said in the release. “Now he plans to use that money in the Mayor’s race, putting himself back in office before he runs for Lieutenant Governor in 2018. Darrell Steinberg likes to play by his own set of rules, but not even Mr. Steinberg is above the law.”

Last year, Steinberg raised $242,996 in his mayoral campaign account, while Ashby raised $168,105, according to city campaign finance records. Candidates are required to file their next comprehensive fundraising reports in late April.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis