SACRAMENTO — California’s campaign watchdog voted Friday to limit the size of donations to candidate-controlled ballot measure committees, closing a loophole that’s enabled Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to raise millions of dollars in six-figure contributions.
The Fair Political Practices Commission voted 4-1 to adopt a regulation that will put the same limits on donations to ballot measure committees run by candidates and officeholders as voter-approved Proposition 34 imposes on contributions made directly to candidates.
But the change won’t take effect until the day after the Nov. 2 election, which will allow Schwarzenegger and others to continue to raise vast sums for various ballot issue committees. Commissioners said changing regulations sooner would create a nightmare of accounting problems.
The regulation makes contribution limits more consistent, said Liane Randolph, the commission’s chairwoman. “The public is clearly uncomfortable with this notion of being able to accept large contributions into ballot measure committees.”
Chuck Bell, an attorney representing the Republican governor, opposed the regulation, questioning the commission’s authority to act.
“Proposition 34 contribution limits to candidates have not been interpreted to apply to candidate-controlled ballot measures,” Bell said. “It’s simply been assumed.”
Voters thought they were limiting all such contributions to candidates when they passed Proposition 34 in November 2000, said Paul Ryan, an attorney and project director at the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
That will help the regulation survive court challenges, Ryan said, although it won’t “reach every type of possible corruption, every type of influence that may be exerted on a candidate.”
Asked about the decision, Schwarzenegger told reporters he was aware of the commission’s vote and would have more to say later.
“We are going to have our positions on that very soon and all of that because there will be much more coming up,” he said.
Karen Getman, a former FPPC chairwoman and an attorney representing Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, urged the commission to adopt the same contribution limit for all candidate-controlled ballot measure committees.
Basing the limits on the office held or sought by the candidate would give the governor and other statewide officials an advantage over legislators, who have lower donation caps, she said.
The committee only agreed to impose the higher applicable donation limit when two officeholders or candidates – for example, the governor and speaker – both control the same committee.
Proposition 34 imposed a series of limits on donations to state candidates, depending on the office they hold or seek. The limit for most contributions to gubernatorial candidates, for example, is $21,200 per election.
Other statewide candidates are limited to taking $5,300 from most contributors. For legislators the cap for most donations is $3,200.
But there are no limits on donations to committees formed to oppose or support ballot measures. That’s helped Schwarzenegger raise more than $12 million since he took office last November, more than twice as much as his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, did in his first six months in office.
Schwarzenegger’s biggest donations have gone to his California Recovery Team committee, which raises money for Schwarzenegger’s ballot proposal fights. It has taken in several contributions of $250,000.
But the governor has collected as much as $614,700 in cumulative donations from his top contributors, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
The commission also approved a second regulation that puts a $25,000 limit on contributions to any ballot measure committee that spends at least $50,000 on an advertisement featuring a candidate or officeholder within 45 days of an election.
The candidate or officeholder would have to collaborate with the committee in some fashion for the limit to kick in, Randolph said.
That regulation takes effect in 30 days.
Commissioner Pamala Karlan joined her four colleagues in voting for the second restriction but opposed the limit on donations to candidate-controlled ballot committees, saying she wanted to err on the side of allowing candidates to voice their opinions on ballot issues.
“I just wasn’t convinced that the regulation struck the balance in the place I would strike it,” she said. “It should be struck in a more limited way.”
On the Net: http://www.fccp.ca.gov