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Watchdog panel's support for lifting some donation limits is likely boost to state senator facing recall

State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is facing a recall election. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is facing a recall election. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

A watchdog commission appointed by Democrats opted Thursday to support lifting the limits on donations to officials targeted by recalls — just as a Democratic state senator is facing one.

The change must be finalized at a future commission meeting. The limits still apply until that happens.

Going against the recommendation of its attorney, all but one Fair Political Practices Commission member voted in support of allowing larger contributions than have been allowed in the past.

The change could be a big boost to freshman state Sen. Josh Newman, being targeted for ouster for voting to raise the gas tax.

FPPC attorneys must still draft a new legal opinion subject to public comment and approval by the panel. The attorneys had issued a memo continuing the long-held position that candidate-controlled committees to fight recalls are subject to a $4,400 contribution limit.

Richard R. Rios, an attorney for Senate Democrats, said it is “unfair and creating a playing field that is not level,” to limit contributions to Newman’s committee, while large contributions can be made to the recall.

Commissioner Maria Audero said her reading of the law is that the limit that applies to candidates running for office should not be applied to their committees fighting recall.

“I think the argument that 'It is so because that is the way we have been doing it' really has no validity,” she said.

Commissioner Brian Hatch also said that the law, as he reads it, does not limit contributions. He said he regretted it had been interpreted that way in the past.

“Hopefully here today we are going to correct these past injustices,” Hatch said.

Commission Chairwoman Jodi Remke voted against reversing the 15-year-old legal posture setting limits.

Citing the makeup of the commission -- which was appointed by Democrats— and the timing in the middle of a recall targeting a Democrat, Remke said the reversal in favor of Newman “could be considered political, potentially impacting the public’s perception of the integrity of the commission.”

The vote was 3-1.

“I believe that the longstanding commission interpretation is correct,” Remke told her colleagues. “I do not believe there is a sound basis to reverse our decision.”

Carl DeMaio, a Republican activist involved in the recall, denounced the panel's vote. “With this action to decimate campaign finance rules in favor of big money in politics, California Democrats show they are breaking and bending all the rules to keep power,” said DeMaio, a former San Diego City Councilman.

Updated 1:18 pm to clarify that the contribution limits still apply until a final vote approves the changes.

Updated at 3:40 pm to include comment from DeMaio.


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