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State Legislature Attempts to Eliminate All Local Campaign Funding Limits?

by: David Dayen

Wed Jul 11, 2007 at 10:09:23 AM PDT

Even though Loni Hancock's Clean Money bill, allowing for a pilot program to attempt public financing for state elections, was turned into a two-year bill, meaning it won't be eligible for passage until 2008, I was under the impression that campaign finance reform was making some progress in the state legislature.  And while this shocker legislation is more about the state exerting control on local municipalities more than anything else, it certainly puts a damper on public financing efforts, as it would virtually eliminate any local limits on contributions.
David Dayen :: State Legislature Attempts to Eliminate All Local Campaign Funding Limits?

Legislation that opponents said would eviscerate local governments' ability to limit the size of campaign contributions was approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee.

The bill, backed by a powerful coalition that includes the Democratic and Republican parties, labor unions and the National Rifle Association, cleared the Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee on a 3-0 vote.

Special interests and the state parties want to dictate what they can spend on campaigns at the local level, and they want to disallow any reasonable attempts by the local governments to limit their influence.  This is really a blow against federalism in the context of the state vs. the local governments, and I find it distasteful.  If Santa Monica wants to experiment with Clean Money, or limit campaign contributions, why should the state disallow it?  Assemblyman Martin Garrick, the Republican sponsor of the legislation, is using truly devious logic to push this forward:

Garrick said the measure was merely an attempt to clarify current law and avoid a "patchwork of laws" preventing political parties and other statewide organizations from communicating with their members about which candidates the groups support and oppose.

"What I am assuring is that members of a membership organization like the California Teachers Association or the League of Conservation Voters can afford to freely communicate . . . with their members," he said.

But Ned Wigglesworth, a lobbyist for California Common Cause, said the bill would open up an "enormous loophole" by preventing cities and counties from capping campaign donations that are arranged by candidates and used to pay for mailers sent by political parties to their members.

"It's about local control over local elections," he said. "Without such safeguards, local contribution limits would be rendered worthless."

This would be devastating.  It may even allow organizations to avoid reporting requirements.  What the hell are we doing here?

Ron Calderon, Mod Squad member in good standing, chaired the committee that passed the bill.  Your state senator ought to hear from you on this one.  It would be a major step backward in the goal to remove the influence of big money in state politics.

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This would be disastrous (0.00 / 0)
Clean money is one of the two cornerstones of progressive politics today (the other being universal single-payer health care). Some innovative and significant work has been done with this in CA cities, including San Francisco. For Republicans and moderate Dems to try and gut it is shameful, and this legislation needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

Would anyone oppose... (0.00 / 0)
making clean money one option, and the other option would be unregulated with instant disclosure?

The Silent Consensus

Yeah, because "Instant Disclosure" (0.00 / 0)
means exactly diddly.  So what if everyone knows they're bought.  The Republicans are already bought lock stock and barrel, and everyone knows it.

And "Unregulated" means "no limits", so you can REALLY buy someone.  If we've learned anything from the last 30 years (and the last 30 years of the 19th century), it's that if a party or politician is willing to be absolutely shameless in their lies and their selling out, it's very hard to do anything about it.

[ Parent ]
Disclosure is a must... (0.00 / 0)
I'm sure we don't disagree there.

"And 'Unregulated' means 'no limits'"

Yes it does

I don't know where you stand on mandatory public financing. I support public financing as an OPTION, I do not support making it mandatory.

If someone does not want public financing, then sunlight should be shined on him/her, and then voters can make an informed decision.

The Silent Consensus

[ Parent ]
And do you support (0.00 / 0)
an automatic ratchet of the public financing to whatever the private funder is taking?  If yes, then my concerns are reduced.  I would prefer pure public financing, because the stupid amounts of money people spend on getting elected hurts us all.  Money is not speech.

But failing that, if you're not trying to set up a two-tiered system, it's not nearly as much of a concern.

[ Parent ]
Yes (0.00 / 0)
I do indeed support the "automatic ratchet"

To play Devil's Advocate with regards to accepting contributions:

What about those who are able to drink a lobbyist's whiskey, sleep with his women, take his money, and then vote against him the next day?

Or let's take Jim Webb. He keeps his views, regardless of whether changing them would earn him money or support. I'd be willing to bet that labor supported him because of his platform and even contributed to him, but that doesn't mean his votes will be influenced by them.

So yeah, what's wrong with taking support from those groups a candidate agrees with? If the candidate then changes his/her views for them, is it the group's fault or the candidate's?

The Silent Consensus

[ Parent ]
Outside Influence (0.00 / 0)
What measures are there or could there be that would safeguard against independent expenditures simply becoming MORE influential in the case of public financing?  Presumably, people would still be willing to spend the same amount on elections, but would just spend it elsewhere, with groups who are not nearly as regulated or easy to pin down, no?

I would love to figure this part of it out because pubilc financing would be great otherwise.

[ Parent ]
This article (0.00 / 0)
is confusing, but I believe this bill would only cover organization's communications.  It does not deal at all with candidates, nor does it override any public financing laws.

obviously (0.00 / 0)
It's a matter of opinion, and the communication angle is certainly what the legislators are pressing, but some very smart and experienced goo-goos (good-government types) are quoted as saying that this would eliminate contribution limits.  And the fact that Calderon brings up Prop. 34 at the end of the article (which set state contirbution limits) means that there is an element of exerting control over municipalities by the state legislature.  I frankly think that "communications" can be broadly interpreted, and would be, by those who want to influence elections.

I know you're somewhat constrained on this issue, but I think there's sufficient cause for concern.

[ Parent ]
I understand (0.00 / 0)
your concern and this is absolutely worth talking about.  However, the headline makes it sound like the legislature is attempting to overrule all local campaign finance restrictions, which does not appear to be the case.

Here is the Prop. 34 reference:

Calderon said the bill's opponents would have to amend Proposition 34, the set of campaign contribution limits adopted by voters in 2000, if they wanted local governments to have the power to limit donations made to fund member communications.

I did a bit more reading and what this bill would do would restrict the ability of local governments to limit the amount of donations that are funneled through political parties.

[ Parent ]
I'm willing (0.00 / 0)
To add a question mark to the headline to make it more of a discussion than a statement.

I find that last sentence, the fact that local governments may be restricted from limiting donations funneled through parties, to be deeply troubling.

[ Parent ]
We would (0.00 / 0)
need some sort of a CFR expert to come around, but I believe that the current state limit is $30k.

[ Parent ]
Let (0.00 / 0)
me clarify that the last sentence is what Common Cause is arguing.  It is unclear to me, if that is what is going on, or if this bill simply bars cities and counties from adopting campaign finance rules that restrict communications between orgs and their members, unless state law contains similar limitations.  There is a big difference there.

[ Parent ]
AB 1430 Guts Local Control (8.00 / 1)
AB 1430 would prohibit cities and counties from limiting cities and counties from limiting the size or source of contributions to political parties to spend on campaign communications (Vote for Chuck) to their members about local candidates.  AB 1430 would similarly limit cities and counties from requiring more disclosure of these contributions and how they are spent (a key part of any clean money system, like SF's).

Its application is complex, but its intended effect is clear: to funnel money unchecked through political parties to benefit candidates.  Labor and NRA are on board because the statutory language is broad ("member organizations", "member communications"), but they are just serving as cover for what is a move by both political parties to evade local campaign finance laws. 

Senator Migden was the lone vote against in Senate Elections Committee this week and deserves props for standing up for what's right on this.

very excited (0.00 / 0)
That you came in to talk about this, Ned, thank you for getting involved.  Please feel free to post a diary explaining this subject, I think we'd all be enriched by your perspective.

[ Parent ]
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