SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In a move likely to benefit a state lawmaker facing recall, California’s political watchdog on Thursday nixed a longstanding law limiting campaign donations by elected officials to colleagues up for recall.
The 3-1 decision by the California Political Practices Commission will allow state lawmakers to give freely to Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman’s fight against a Republican-led recall attempt in Orange County. If Newman is recalled, state Democrats would lose their supermajority in the state Senate.
Legislators were previously prohibited from giving more than $4,400 to anti-recall efforts.
Going against Chair Jodi Remke, the commissioners said their support was not politically motivated. Commissioner Maria Audero noted that she and another commissioner are Republicans yet still voted in favor of nixing recall campaign donations.
Audero said the commission’s decision simply aligns state law with previous federal court rulings on unlimited campaign donations. She pushed back at critics who have accused the watchdog of speeding up the vote in order to benefit Newman’s potential recall fight.
“We’ve perpetuated the [recall campaign limit] error since 2002, it’s time we fix it,” Audero said. “The best I can say to the public is ‘better late than never.”
The commission’s decision will take effect immediately, likely open up a flood of donations on Newman’s behalf. Newman could face a recall election as soon as this fall after his critics said they have submitted enough voter signatures to initiate a special election.
Republicans are going after the freshmen state senator, who won a traditionally Republican seat in 2016, for voting in favor of a $52 billion gas tax and transportation plan in April.
Remke was the lone dissenting vote.
“I believe this is the wrong time and wrong venue for us to reverse a longstanding commission interpretation of a statute,” she said.
The commission also approved a $310,000 fine against a chic Santa Monica hotel for laundering donations to City Council candidates. The fine is one of the largest ever issued by the political watchdog.
Investigators said the Huntley Hotel made 62 campaign contributions in the names of other people worth $97,350 during two local elections. The commission approved the staff’s recommended maximum $5,000 penalty per violation.
The hotel opposed the expansion of a nearby commercial property and donated to candidates it perceived as being anti-development, the commission claimed.
“Making a campaign contribution in the name of another is one of the most serious violations of the Political Reform Act,” the stipulated order states.