Fair Practices Panel Delays Action on ‘Slush Fund’ Rule

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California’s political ethics watchdog has put off until January any action on a proposed regulation to limit how politicians can use money in candidate-controlled ballot measure committee accounts.

The proposed regulation would bar the sort of transfer that former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, made last month when he moved $1.5 million from his Leadership California committee into his legal defense fund, with which he’s battling a years-long FBI corruption probe. The committee had raised funds this year to recall a state senator and to oppose a legislative redistricting reform ballot measure.

Proposed Regulation 18521.5 has been in the works for about a year, and the Fair Political Practices Commission began considering it at its monthly meeting Thursday, but deferred any action until its next meeting.

Roman Porter, the commission’s executive director, said his staff will continue to work on the proposed regulation’s language between now and then.

The rule basically would require a candidate-controlled ballot measure committee to state which specific measure it’s raising money for, and require that the money be spent only on that measure.

Reform advocates say current regulations let politicians used such committees as largely unregulated slush funds with which they can raise money ostensibly for one purpose but then use it for another with impunity. Democratic and Republican leaders say the proposed regulation would infringe upon candidates’ and elected officials’ Constitutional rights.

Carmen Balber, an advocate with Consumer Watchdog who wrote to the fair practices panel in support of the regulation, was at Thursday’s meeting in Sacramento.

"Most of the commissioners expressed a recognition — and concern — that these committees function as indeterminate, unlimited war chests," she said afterward.

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