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Tilting the Campaign Law

One goal of campaign reform in California has been to minimize the advantages that incumbent officeholders enjoy over challengers. But an attempt to even the playing field has been undermined by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

A provision of California’s new campaign law, Proposition 73 in the June primary election, requires a candidate to specify the political office that he seeks before raising money for the campaign. So far, so good. One of the problems has been that a well-known officeholder could raise a big war chest and wait until the filing deadline to declare whether he would seek reelection or run for some other office. This made it difficult for challengers who might want to seek either the candidate’s current seat or the office to which he aspired.

But, in adopting regulations to implement Proposition 73, the Fair Political Practices Commission ruled that a candidate was not limited to just one office. Thus a state assemblyman could declare for reelection and at the same time announce intentions of running for the state Senate. Campaign contributions could be made without specifying for which office they were intended. All campaign contributions not earmarked for one office or another then could be diverted into the account of his choice.

Assembly Republican leader Ross Johnson of La Habra, the lead author of Proposition 73, is correct when he says that this violates the spirit of the proposal. The commission should reconsider its decision, which overruled the recommendations of its own staff. Even if it is not possible to limit each candidate to declaring for one office, the commission at least should require that all contributions must be designated for a specific contest.

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