Candidates’ Link to PACs Targeted in California

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California’s political watchdog approved enhanced campaign-disclosure laws Thursday aimed at curbing coordination between candidates and political action committees during the run up to the 2016 general election.
     The new rules redefine coordination between candidates and outside groups and shift the burden of proof in suspected coordination cases from the state to the candidate. The Fair Political Practices Commission says the rules are designed to “ensure a level playing field” and buck a growing trend of well-funded outside groups influencing state elections.
     “Our goal is to keep up with the ongoing evolution of spending by outside groups,” commission chair Jodi Remke said in statement. “These rules will help ensure money that is given to outside groups is spent without the direction or influence of candidates.”
     The regulator’s changes provide stricter rules for candidates holding fundraisers and the common practice of candidates’ political advisors being appointed to their PACs. The regulation also prohibits candidates from sharing produced videos like advertisements and other data with PACs.
     The actions taken Thursday by the commission continue its recent trend of targeting independent or outside spending in state elections. Last month, the commission adopted strict reporting requirements on nonprofits donating to candidates or ballot measures through out-of-state PACs.
     The “dark-money amendment” was adopted in response to a pair of nonprofits tied to the Koch Brothers that donated $15 million to defeat a tax increase ballot measure in 2012. According to commission data, $29 million in dark money from 150 unnamed donors was spent on the 2012 general election.
     During California’s 2014 general election, an estimated 160 outside groups spent over $80 million in various statewide races, including a combined $26 million on the race for the state’s school superintendent of public instruction.
     Following the controversial U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision in 2010, which essentially allowed unlimited independent spending and campaign donations, the commission has attempted to reign in and limit the influence of PACs. In 2013 it reached a settlement on allegations of illegal campaign coordination with a PAC that supported Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s successful bid for the job in 2010.
     Remke said the new rules “come on the heels of a national trend” toward increased spending and coordination between candidates and PACs.
     “At a time when we are seeing a proliferation of independent expenditures, this common-sense proposal focuses on well-documented situations that demonstrate a need for changes in the law,” she said.
     The commission also announced its monthly enforcement decisions and fines Thursday, including a $15,000 maximum penalty to a Southern California businessman for political money laundering. According to the regulator, George S. Briggeman Jr. used a Wyoming company to mask $13,000 in donations made to several Orange County candidates in 2012 city council races.
     Five of the six candidates given money by Briggeman, who owned several trash-hauling businesses, won their elections. Briggeman could not be reached for comment.
     A $17,000 penalty was also given to Michael Aldapa, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the state assembly in both 2012 and 2014. The commission claims Aldapa failed to file several campaign statements in 2014 during a campaign for the assembly seat eventually won by Miguel Santiago.
     Aldapa did not return a request for comment.
     In total, the commission issued $51,000 in fines and 62 combined violations.

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