Getting Around Contribution Limits in California

 

Just when you think you have heard it all.

The Sacramento Bee is reporting on the depressing, yet openly honest admission from a state Assembly Member who opened  a new candidate campaign committee just to get around the contribution limits and raise money for other candidates. No joke! Here’s his quote:

“I have no plans to run for treasurer,” Logue told The Bee. “I’m using that to raise some resources to help some colleagues to bring more pro-business candidates to Sacramento down the road.”

How is this possible you might ask? Well, California contribution limits are unintentionally designed to allow this type of behavior. Since statewide constitutional candidates like the Treasurer and Secretary of State have dramatically higher contribution limits ($6,800) than legislative committees ($4,100), candidates who want to get around the legislative contribution limit only need to create a statewide candidate committee, load it up with huge donations from special interests, and then use it as their own political slush fund.

Here’s our response that was included in the story:

Phillip Ung, policy advocate for California Common Cause, criticized the practice as “an abuse of the spirit of the contribution limits.” While he wants to see more rules governing the creation and use of what he calls “political slush funds,” Ung did find one silver lining in Logue’s case. ”I guess I can applaud him for his honesty,” he said. 

 

Assembly Member Dan Logue

Assembly Member Dan Logue admitted to creating a new committee to circumvent contribution limits.

The legality of this issue is questionable and I am sure the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s ethics watchdog, will have the final say. It should be pointed out that Assembly Member Dan Logue is not the only official to use this tactic; in fact, it is becoming a more frequent trend for many candidates on both sides of the aisle. To add more complexity to this already bizarre story, Assembly Member Dan Logue is the former vice chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, a committee that has oversight responsibilities over campaign finance laws.

So how do we fix this? Here are some of California Common Cause’s recommendations:

  1. Prohibit the creation of any candidate campaign committees until two years before the election or when the candidate files his/her intent for candidacy with officials;
  2. Ensure all contribution limits are set at the same level to remove the incentive to create committees with higher contribution limits;
  3. Make it a violation of law to circumvent the state’s contribution limits through these types of activities; and
  4. Adopt public financing of campaigns to remove the dependence of candidates on private, special interest contributions.

Most are simple reforms that can be adopted by the Legislature this year and will go a long way to closing these loopholes.

You can read more about the story here: Capitol Alert: Logue opens state treasurer committee, but not to run for post.

 

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Phillip Ung is California Common Cause’s policy advocate. Follow him on Twitter @PhilRUng.

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