Skip to comments.CA: Schwarzenegger allies sued to overturn contribution regulation
Posted on 02/09/2005 8:00:16 PM PST by NormsRevenge
SACRAMENTO (AP) - A business group raising money to back Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's package of constitutional amendments for an upcoming special election has sued to overturn a cap on contributions to committees controlled by elected officials.
The suit, served Wednesday on the California Fair Political Practices Commission, targets a regulation that officials from the Citizens to Save California and the governor's office have said does not apply to them because Schwarzenegger does not play a controlling role in the group.
Critics have charged that Citizens to Save California is violating the regulation by raising unlimited amounts of money for campaign purposes that the governor is helping to direct. One group, TheRestofUs.org, a nonprofit political watchdog organization, filed a complaint against Citizens to Save California on Monday.
Joel Fox, co-chairman of Citizens to Save California, called the complaint a "shameless and transparent effort by special-interest groups to interfere with the political process." In a statement, Fox insisted his group has not violated any regulations, but has filed the lawsuit to overturn the rule because it is illegal.
"The regulation is contrary to the terms of the Political Reform Act," Fox said. "It restricts freedom of speech rights in the most sensitive of areas - political campaigns on issues of significant importance."
Ned Wigglesworth, analyst for TheRestofUs.org, said the lawsuit shows the governor and his allies believe they have a problem with the regulation - just as his group's complaint has said.
"I guess they took us pretty seriously," Wigglesworth said. "They had eight months to complain about this but didn't until we filed on Monday. The timing suggests they might be in violation."
Calls to the governor's office were referred to Schwarzenegger attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who could not be reached for comment.
At issue is a regulation adopted by the Fair Political Practices Commission in June that limits the size of donations to candidate-controlled ballot measure committees. The rule closed a loophole in a voter-approved contribution limit that allowed Schwarzenegger to raise millions of dollars from six-figure contributions for his California Recovery Team, a committee organized to push the governor's political agenda.
Proposition 34 imposed caps on donations to officeholders depending on the office they hold or seek. The limit for most contributions to gubernatorial candidates, for example, is $22,300 per election.
Citizens to Save California has a goal of raising as much as $50 million for the campaign this fall and although no money has been reported yet, expectations are that much of that goal would be reached by soliciting large checks from businesses and individuals. Schwarzenegger has been conducting a variety of private meetings throughout the state, which are presumed to be fund-raisers for Citizens to Save California, although no campaign finance reports have been filed.
The suit, filed by the San Francisco law firm of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, includes as a plaintiff Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Chatsworth, but not the governor.
Richmond, an announced candidate for state treasurer, said Wednesday he believes the rule unfairly limits the rights of a candidate to participate in the political process.
Richmond said he was deeply involved in drafting an initiative to change the state's public pension system that could be on the ballot if a special election is called this year. But he had to give up his role in the campaign for fear that his participation would hurt the committee's ability to raise money.
Tracy Westen, chief executive officer of the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonpartisan research organization in Los Angeles, said the rule is a good one.
"The point is to limit the money that candidates can receive from big donors," he said. "If the FPPC had allowed these donations to continue to candidate-controlled committees, it would completely undermine the entire purpose of campaign finance laws. That loophole had to be closed."
Westen said the suit from Citizens to Save California suggests the governor is feeling restrained by the rule. "He's clearly pushing the limit. The law requires that committees be completely independent of him - but that can be a matter of interpretation. If he goes to a fund-raiser and gives a speech, if he's going to planning meeting - these are difficult questions of interpretation.
"He got to keep things at arms length," Westen said.
Another Fox-controlled group, the Small Business Action Network, received nearly $2 million from Schwarzenegger's campaign in March to push a petition drive for an initiative to change the state's workers' compensation system and urge voters to contact their legislators in support of the governor's proposed changes.
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