Editorials

Will California Democrats be hypocrites on campaign donations?

The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening. California lawmakers are considering a bill that critics say will open the floodgates to special interest money in legislative campaigns.
The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening. California lawmakers are considering a bill that critics say will open the floodgates to special interest money in legislative campaigns. AP

In 2014, the California Legislature made a big deal of calling for a constitutional convention to overturn the Citizens United ruling, which allows unlimited corporate and union spending in campaigns.

Now, in 2018, some legislators are pushing a bill that critics say will open the floodgates to special interest money in legislative races, as soon as the November election.

It’s not only hypocritical, it’s a bad idea. Assembly Bill 84 should get a quick death before the Senate Elections Committee on Tuesday.

A coalition of good government groups, including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of California, is lobbying legislators and trying to rally the public.

If the bill is approved, it would allow the Democratic and Republican caucus leaders in both the Assembly and Senate to control their own political committees, similar to the ones that the state parties have. Each of these four committees could accept contributions of as much as $36,500 from a single donor, far more than the $4,400 cap on individual contributions. And these caucus committees also could receive and spend unlimited donations for “independent” expenditures for or against candidates.

Common Cause argues that the measure is bad for voters because the money would benefit incumbents, making it more difficult for challengers to compete. The measure also would allow candidates to pledge not to accept tobacco, oil or other special interest donations, but then take their money through the back door via these caucus committees. With more campaign cash under their control, legislative leaders would have another tool to force legislators to vote the party line.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, the top Democrat, says the bill is worth considering because of its provisions on added disclosure. “This measure will increase the public’s ability to see what leaders raise and then how those funds are spent,” she said in a statement to the editorial board. “This legislation won’t bring more money into politics.”

The good government coalition would disagree, as do we. If you care about the corrosive effect of big money in politics, call your legislator before the Tuesday meeting.

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