On March 22, the left-wing coalition backing single-member council districts in Anaheim kicked off its campaign to win their approval by Anaheim voters this November. 501(c)(3) groups like OCCORD can actively advocate for a ballot measure within limits on “lobbying” activity. Per the BolderAdvocacy website (published by the left-wing Alliance for Justice):
Under Section 501(h), the overall limit on lobbying starts as high as 20% of those expenditures for small charities and diminishes to a smaller percentage of the expenditures for larger organizations, with a maximum cap of $1,000,000 on an organization’s annual lobbying expenditures. In addition to this overall limit, the 501(h) test imposes a limit on grassroots lobbying, calculated as one-quarter of the overall lobbying limit. For example, a 501(c)(3) that has made the 501(h) election, with an annual budget of $500,000, would have an overall lobbying limit of $100,000 and a grassroots lobbying limit of $25,000.
OCCORD’s annual budget has historically been somewhat over half-a-million dollars, so the above is a solid guide to how much of its budget the left-wing advocacy group can devote to this ballot measure.
Convincing Anaheim voters to re-structure how they elect their city council will take a considerable amount of persuasive voter communication – especially since there is no grass-roots groundswell demanding single-member council districts. In other words, the pro-council districts coalition needs a benefactor(s) to bankroll its campaign.
Who will do it?
One possibility would be the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA), which definitely has the resources and presumably the interest in replacing at-large council elections with a single-member districts system.
OCEA really, really wants to elect its own candidates to the Anaheim City Council. The Anaheim Municipal Employees Association (AMEA) represents city employees and is OCEA’s largest city affiliate. Between 2010 and 2012, OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino spent $700,000 of his members’ dues money into a vain attempt to elect John Leos to the city council.
Single-member districts have appeal to special interests like OCEA because they can (in theory, at least) achieve the same results with less money. Carving Anaheim into council districts would seem o present a simpler route to OCEA’s strategic goal of electing candidates of its choosing to the Anaheim City Council, and therefore an incentive to bankroll the ballot initiative campaign. I have few doubts the Anaheim political figures leading the charge for districts are already having such conversations with OCEA leadership.
On the other hand, OCEA has a poor track record in Anaheim elections. The county union’s campaign spending has been so profligate as to become a campaign issue in itself. Voters are smart enough to pick up on which special interest is trying to change how they elect their councilmembers. The idea of the union that the union representing city employees is spending heavily to re-structure how the city is governed could strike most voters as heavy-handed over-reaching, and rebound against the pro-districting campaign.
Indeed, the vote on single-member council districts will be a vote on how Anaheim governs itself. This measure was not placed on the ballot by voter signatures but as the result of a lawsuit settlement Therefore, any large outside interest group would have to be cognizant that Anaheim voters could react negatively to this attempt to re-structure their city government.
We shall see what unfolds during the next several months.