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Monday, April 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

FPPC Delays Reform of Ballot Committees

SACRAMENTO (CN) - The Fair Political Practices Commission of California postponed Thursday a decision on whether to make ballot measure committees pre-designate a purpose for their funds in an effort to curb corruption.

General purpose committees have little oversight, but are not allowed to contribute to the personal expenses of candidates and can't be used to directly promote candidates. Nevertheless, since ballot measure committees are largely controlled by individual candidates, critics say ballot measure contributions represent a form of contribution to the candidates.

Proponents of the measure emphasized that direct donations to candidates are limited because large donations are seen as undo influence. Donations to ballot committees, however, are unlimited. The proponents claim donations to ballot committees controlled by candidates could also cause undo influence and should be better controlled.

"People must know who's spending money to influence whom" said FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson.

Opponents of the measure argued that general purpose committees don't cause corruption and questioned the constitutionality of such a rule, arguing it would be overturned in court.

They also called attention to preemptive ballot measure committees as an example of legitimate committees which can't definitely declare a use of their money, using proposition 4 as an example.

Proposition 4 is a recently rejected California proposition requiring parental notification before a minor undergoes an abortion. Proponents of Proposition 4 are already saying they will reintroduce the proposition in the next election, two years from now.

Under the terms of the measure before the commission, candidates wouldn't be able to raise money for or against the proposition until it is certain to be on the ballot. If the proposition never makes it to the ballot, the funds wouldn't be able to be applied anywhere else since they would have been pre-designated for the proposition.

Opponents say this opens the possibility for political games, where one side postpones the ability of the other side to raise money.

"Temporal limits on fundraising won't change anything because it doesn't solve anything as long as we have disclosure" says a lawyer for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The courts have decided in other cases that the commission cannot limit funds to ballot measure committees. It's a question as to whether the same goes for general purpose committees.

21 ballot-measure committees would be affected if the measure passes.

The commission is having the measure rewritten to be clearer about preemptive ballot measure committees and will further consider the constitutionality of the measure. Commission members will reconsider the measure when they meet again in January.

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