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California Legislature

Democratic and Republican legislative leaders join to fight campaign finance rule change

The Statehouse Capitol, in Sacramento. (Los Angeles Times)
The Statehouse Capitol, in Sacramento. (Los Angeles Times)

In a rare bipartisan agreement, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the state Senate and Assembly have united to fight a proposal by the state’s campaign watchdog agency to change the test for when a candidate controls a political committee.

The rule change considered Thursday by the state Fair Political Practices Commission was opposed in a letter from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), Senate Republican leader Jean Fuller of Bakersfield and Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley, all on behalf of their caucuses.

“Our collective opposition is based on our view that the proposed regulation is inconsistent with the current statutory definition of a controlled committee, creates a vague and uncertain test, and will likely result in unintended consequences that could actually undermine the purposes of the Political Reform Act,” the four leaders said.

The commission staff proposed to incorporate some of the legislators’ recommendations but the panel decided Thursday to delay action for a month at the request of new Commissioners Allison Hayward and Brian Hatch, who wanted more time to review the last-minute changes.

Determining that a candidate controls a political committee means the committee may be subject to the contribution limits that apply to the candidate and is identified in mail and ads as controlled by the candidate.

The proposed new rules might have determined that a candidate controls a committee based on factors that include whether he or she serves on its governing board, even if the candidate can be outvoted, or raises an “extensive” amount of money for the committee.

“No definition of ‘extensive’ is provided, and it seems quite plausible that a candidate could, through minimal effort, raise an extensive amount, but play no other role in influencing how those funds are spent or the committee operated,” the legislators wrote.

Commissioner Hayward had concern about determining a politician is exerting significant influence on a committee if he just raises money. “Control comes on the expenditure side,” she said.

The commission staff proposed to remove the "extensive" fundraising provision.

The rules can also hurt disclosure, they argued. If the tobacco industry forms a committee and enlists a city council member to sit on its governing board, the committee might be identified in mailers as the council member’s, not the tobacco industry’s, the legislators argued. They proposed the FPPC instead create a process that allows candidates to show that they do not have significant influence on a committee even if they raise money for it or sit on its governing board.

Updated at 2:30 pm to include that the commission delayed action on the plan.


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