Aberdeen considering election rules that would make candidates close former campaign accounts

Aberdeen's city council is considering changing some city election rules, including requiring political candidates to donate their unused campaign money to a community group within 60 days of the 2015 election.

The rule would apply to funds from all previous city elections, as well as the 2015 election. It requires all non-expended campaign funds to be donated to an Aberdeen-based non-profit organization and an organization supporting Aberdeen-based schools. Funds can also be returned to their original contributors.

The council has not introduced the proposal as legislation yet, but the subject was discussed at a June 10 work session.

Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller said the finance law is far from final and could still be scrapped.

He said it was proposed because it was harder to track campaign finances with the council and mayoral candidates going to four-year terms.

"On a two-year term, it's easier to track," he said. 

One person who would be affected is Mike Hiob, who lost to Mayor Mike Bennett in the 2009 mayoral race after serving several terms on the city council.

Hiob said he has about $500 in his campaign fund and has no intention of closing it out. He had $1,295 in his account at the end of 2011, according to the financial report on the city of Aberdeen's web site.

Hiob said whether Aberdeen can legally enforce such a rule remains to be seen.

Hiob did not know if the legislation was aimed at him personally, but he noted Miller said only a handful of campaign accounts are still open.

Miller also said although Hiob has always been "very good" about reporting his finances, some candidates from 2005 or 2007 have been less punctual and "we've got to keep running after them."

The rationale for it was it was too cumbersome for city clerk Monica Correll to report the expenses to the state every year, Hiob said.

"I totally disagree and I talked to [Miller] about that because they have to file this once per year, the city clerk does," Hiob said. "If I donate something and I use campaign money, that is a legitimate excuse and it keeps my name out there and my face out there, which is a legitimate reason to do that."

Hiob dismissed the city's explanation as illogical.

"I think it has to do with just local politics trying to keep other former candidates or future candidates from opening an account or keeping an account," he said, adding banks already make it hard enough to sustain a campaign account.

"That is very, very cumbersome to open and close accounts all the time," he added.

If the law were to pass, "I am not going to listen. I am keeping my account open," Hiob said.

He said he believes the only response the city can have is to ban him from running for office but he does not believe the "draconian" rule would otherwise be enforceable or constitutional.

Councilwoman Ruth Elliott, however, said she had no issues with the proposal so far and has not heard anything negative about it.

"If [the money] is going to a non-profit, I certainly don't see any problem with that," she said Wednesday, although she added she had to look into it more.

"I haven't seen it yet, so it's a little too much to ask," she said. "From what I heard and I have been told, it doesn't sound bad at all."

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