Donors to the Democratic Party are getting uppity. They’ve dared suggest that the money they donated to elect people might not exactly get spent that way if Speaker Núñez gets to keep his hands on it. (Couldn’t be the revelations about Núñez’s use of campaign cash to wine, dine and fly his way around the world, could it?)
The California Labor Federation’s executive council voted Monday to demand Speaker Núñez return a $4 million check that the party transferred to his campaign committee at the end of 2006.
An executive council member told the LA Times:
"As he’s leaving office, he shouldn’t take those funds and have a personal slush fund that he can use for whatever he wants to use for politically," said Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.
"It wasn’t money that was raised for him," said Balgenorth. "It was money that was raised to elect Democrats in tough, contested seats."
I called on the Speaker to return the money back in 2006. The transfer raised all sorts of problems: The money was raised in chunks far larger than the Speaker could have taken into his campaign committee directly, the proceeds were at least in part from the Speaker’s Cup, a fundraiser hosted by AT&T, and the money had been effectively laundered by running through Democratic Party hands before the Speaker took possession.
As I wrote then:
This spring you were the sponsor and guest of honor of a fundraiser for the state Party, lavishly hosted at Pebble Beach by AT&T, at the moment you were carrying the legislation sought by AT&T and Verizon. Your staff dismissed criticism about the propriety of the event, assuring the San Francisco Chronicle that no conflict existed because the event was “a fundraiser for the Democratic Party, not the Speaker.” …
This $4 million gift comes with strings attached and the money will never be clean. Your acceptance of it demonstrates a disdain for voter-imposed campaign limits intended to limit the influence of large individual donors like AT&T on the legislature. The check must be returned to the Party.
Campaign funds are for electing candidates, not for personal use, and Nunez is not running another campaign. Now that he’s leaving office, there’s even more reason to give the money back.
I imagine that Democrats in close races in 2006 were less than pleased that he had siphoned millions from the Party coffers. In 2008, there are 42 open legislative seats and no doubt 42 Democratic candidates who would be thrilled if their Party could spend that $4 million on them. Campaign laws prevent Núñez from spending more than $3,600 (or $7,200 if a candidate makes it past the primary). Even if he gave $7,200 to a candidate in every one of the 80 Assembly districts, he could still only spend $576,000, an eighth of the money he took from his party.
The only real reason for Núñez to cling to the purse strings is to play kingmaker with his colleagues one last time. For an outgoing Speaker, this means securing favors owed for a future client or campaign.
I’m glad, working for a nonpartisan group that doesn’t give to candidates, that I don’t have to worry about whether my donations will help elect a candidate or become some politician’s personal slush fund.
But the Labor Federation and the rest of the Democratic Party’s donors do have options. If Núñez continues to refuse to return the funds, they can boycott the upcoming Speaker’s Cup fundraiser at Pebble Beach. That way, their money won’t end up simply lining another politician’s pockets.