A Sacramento judge Friday affirmed her earlier ruling that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other politicians can raise unlimited amounts of money for ballot initiatives, overturning an eight-month-old regulation by state authorities.
Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang said forcing Schwarzenegger to abide by a $22,300 limit from each donor harmed the governor's free-speech rights to advance initiatives and associate with others working on the same issues.
Schwarzenegger and a group called Citizens to Save California sued the Fair Political Practices Commission last month to overturn its June regulation. The rule barred the governor and other politicians from controlling initiative committees that raise money in unlimited amounts.
Liane Randolph, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said attorneys would review the judge's decision and decide whether to appeal.
Nevertheless, Randolph said, allowing unlimited funds to be raised by candidates who control initiative groups "leaves a gap in the system that needs to be addressed."
The $22,300-per-donor limit still applies to money collected for Schwarzenegger's reelection fund.
But Chang's ruling allows donations in unlimited amounts to groups created by politicians to advance ballot initiatives.
The ruling means Schwarzenegger can take active control of Citizens to Save California. The group was formed in January by the governor's allies in the business community to write and promote ballot initiatives that Schwarzenegger may want passed in a special election this year.
Watchdog groups and FPPC commissioners fear that politicians may now create groups ostensibly to promote initiatives, then use the committees to promote themselves -- and bypass the Proposition 34 fundraising limits approved by voters in 2000.
"The lawyers for Citizens to Save California have the unfortunate and mistaken impression that the 1st Amendment guarantees powerful interests the right to spend without limit millions of dollars to influence elections," said Derek Cressman, director of TheRestofUs.org, a campaign finance watchdog group.