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Race Is On, Amid Controversy

Prop. 208's controls on fund-raising shouldn't be watered down

June 02, 1997

California politics leaps fully into a bold new world of campaign finance reform today, one year before the June 1998 primary election. And possibly portending the character of the coming year, it begins on a note of controversy.

One provision of Proposition 208, the reform law adopted by voters last year, establishes blackout periods during which candidates cannot solicit contributions. For those seeking statewide office next year, that period ends today. The race is on, particularly for those who need to establish their credibility by raising as much money as they can as soon as they can under the new contribution limits.

The controversy involves how the staff of the state Fair Political Practices Commission has interpreted rules governing contributions to so-called independent expenditure committees. Whenever a committee spends $1,000 or more in support of or in opposition to a candidate--as opposed to promoting or resisting issues--it becomes subject to contributions limits. In such cases, no individual can donate more than $250 to that committee. But the FPPC staff has held that contributions of up to $100,000 per person can be made until the committee actually spends $1,000 on any candidate. This would allow a committee to solicit $100,000 contributions until it met its fund-raising goal and only then begin spending the money. Proposition 208 co-author Tony Miller says such an interpretation is absurd, creating a giant loophole favoring well-heeled special interests.

The wording of Proposition 208 supports Miller's view. Moreover, 208 itself requires that the law be liberally construed to accomplish the purposes of the proposition. The FPPC staff should stay the effect of its finding until the full commission can meet and properly negate the ruling.

Some may not like it that Proposition 208 makes it inconvenient for large special interests to exert their political will financially. But that is precisely what the law intended. And the people knew what they were voting for.

Let's allow the law to work in that spirit.

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