Proposition 34’s contribution limits effectively waived by new regulation, reform advocates say
SACRAMENTO – Campaign finance reform advocates charged Tuesday that state regulators have opened a loophole in voter-approved Proposition 34 by allowing incumbents to raise as much money as they want.
In unanimously adopting a regulation Monday, the Fair Political Practices Commission in effect waived the initiative’s contribution limits for legislators and other state officeholders who established fund-raising panels by Jan. 1.
The ballot measure voters approved in November limited the amount a single contributor could give to a candidate. Donations were capped at $3,000 per election for legislative candidates, $5,000 for statewide office and $20,000 for gubernatorial candidates. The measure made an exception for candidates who had debt left from the 2000 election, putting no limits on the amount of money they could raise to retire the debt.
But the commission said the contribution limits should not go into effect until after the 2002 elections, drawing criticism from reformers.
“This is just an astounding interpretation that makes no sense at all,” said Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause. “Proposition 34 is riddled with loopholes, and I think the public may have been sold a bill of goods.”
Commission Chairwoman Karen Getman defended the action as a reasonable way to shift from the previous unlimited-contribution system to the restrictions of Proposition 34.
Because the measure allowed incumbents to raise unlimited amounts of money for two months between the election and Jan. 1, when the initiative took effect, they decided to allow unlimited fund-raising for campaign committees that related to the 2000 election.
While incumbents face no contribution caps, they will still be restricted in how they can spend the money in the 2002 election under the regulation. A legislator, for instance, could raise $50,000 from a single contributor, but could only spend $3,000 on his or her 2002 primary campaign and $3,000 on the general election campaign. The rest would have to be transferred to other candidates or parties within applicable contribution limits.