Thus far, smart people are coming to different conclusions about SB 1439, which took effect this year.
Thursday, the city council approved an amendment to a trash hauling contract with Mid Valley Disposal, with Council President Tyler Maxwell and Councilmember Garry Bredefeld part of the 6-0 vote.
Basically, the law says that an elected leader cannot vote on an item if he or she accepts more than $250 in campaign funds from a company that has business before a public board or council.
Members of the family that operate Mid Valley Disposal contributed money this year to the campaigns of Maxwell — running for re-election in 2024; and Bredefeld, running for county supervisor in 2024.
So, does the scenario Maxwell and Bredefeld face break the law?
“It depends,” said Jay Wierenga, spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, answered without specifically addressing the councilmen’s legal status. The FPPC oversees and enforces campaign finance violations. The watchdog group does not comment on whether specific actions are a violation.
Digging Through the Law
There are several factors at play. The type of contract that would fall under SB 1439 does not seem to be in dispute. What is in question is whether multiple members of an ownership family contributing to a campaign count toward the limit. There are regulations defining “agent” and “participant.”
In his campaign filings through June 30, 2023, Maxwell reported $250 contributions each on June 30 from CEO Joseph Kalpakoff; Jonathan Kalpakoff, Joseph’s brother, listed as “owner”; and mother Natalie Kalpakoff, also listed as “owner;” and sister Tatiana Kalpakoff.
On June 19, Bredefeld received $250 each from the company itself, Mid Valley Disposal; Wendy Kalpakoff, wife of Joseph; and Natalie Kalpakoff and Tatiana Kalpakoff.
Joseph Kalpakoff spoke at Thursday’s city council meeting. The law also requires the contributor to disclose contributions, which apparently did not happen at the meeting.
California Common Cause, a good government advocacy group that helped pass the law, believes that Maxwell and Bredefeld violated the law.
“If the contributors are owners or operators in some capacity or have a stake in the company in some capacity, then it is my opinion that they are ‘parties’ who have disclosure requirements, and their contributions would be accumulated,” Sean McMorris, California Common Cause’s transparency and ethics manager, told Politics 101.
However, Maxwell told Politics 101 his vote did not violate SB 1439 without elaborating further.
Messages to Bredefeld and Mid Valley Disposal were not returned.
A check of campaign finance documents from the other five councilmembers does not show any contributions from Mid Valley Disposal or the ownership family.
If FPPC finds a violation — it can investigate on its own or if it receives a complaint — the exact consequences can vary, spokesman Wierenga said.
California Common Cause’s McMorris also questions the timing of the contributions.
“If these contributions all came in around the same time (and especially after contract negotiations began) and are all at or just under $250, then that could be an indication that the applicant was aware of the law and was potentially trying to find a workaround by having multiple people contribute the max amount, perhaps thinking that the contributions would not be accrued under the law,” McMorris said.
“These laws exist for a reason. They need to be followed, even if it creates what officeholders and applicants may view as a headache or burden. Can you put a price on the public’s trust in their government? If public officials and applicants were benevolent, then we would not need ethics laws. That is not the case. We need these laws and they need to be followed,” McMorris said.
SB 1439 Opposition Not Pursuing Lawsuit
A coalition of businesses that sued to block SB 1439 says it will not pursue an appeal after losing in Sacramento County Superior Court.
“After careful consideration of the time and expense necessary to pursue a constitutional challenge to SB 1439 up to the Supreme Court, our coalition of business nonprofit associations and local elected officials has decided not to appeal the most recent ruling in this case. We remain confident that the courts would have ultimately agreed that SB 1439 violates the First Amendment right to free speech,” a coalition spokeswoman said.
Members of the coalition included the California Restaurant Association, California Retailers Association, and California Business Roundtable.
“We continue to support campaign finance transparency and openness. We note the irony that sustaining this law will likely lead to increased activity in independent expenditure campaigns – a far less transparent process than publicly accountable small, direct contributions to local election campaigns,” the coalition said.