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Santa Rosa may revise rules for campaign robocalls

Santa Rosa is working to update its campaign finance rules to help the public better understand who's behind those pesky political robocalls.

The City Council this week considered changes to local campaign finance rules to boost the transparency surrounding recorded calls from political candidates and committees.

Most of the amendments drafted by City Clerk Terri Griffin and City Attorney Caroline Fowler aim to ensure city's rules align with changes in state law, and to make local rules easier for candidates to understand.

But other changes seek to tighten the reporting requirements for robocalls to ensure elections cannot be influenced by anonymous groups taking out inexpensive calls for or against candidates.

The concern is that such calls can be purchased so inexpensively that those behind them never have to publicly report their activities under existing rules.

"Since robocalls are so cheap, it's very easy to make a high number of calls and still come under $500," Griffin told the council last week.

Groups known as independent expenditure committees that spend less than $500 on political activities in Santa Rosa don't need to report how much they raised for or against candidates or how they spent the money. That's a lower threshold than the state's $1,000 limit.

Councilman Gary Wysocky said he was "the subject of a particularly vicious campaign robocall" done anonymously during the last election, and he supported stricter regulation of the practice.

In his case, a series of calls just days before the election slammed his record. The automated calls claimed to be from the "Anybody But Wysocky Committee," but no such committee ever filed state or local paperwork and those behind the calls have never been identified.

The situation was similar to the calls anonymously attacking Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board veteran Karyn Pulley. In that case, a group called "Parents For Better Schools" never filed campaign disclosure forms because less than $1,000 was spent, according to campaign consultant Herb Williams, who arranged the calls for the group.

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