Leave the re­call rules alone

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Pol­i­tics can be a dirty busi­ness, and the cam­paign by Re­pub­li­cans to un­seat Fuller­ton Demo­cratic state Sen. Josh New­man is about as muddy as it gets. The GOP tar­geted the fresh­man se­na­tor os­ten­si­bly be­cause he voted for the taxes and fees to fund trans­porta­tion projects. What’s re­ally at stake is the Democrats’ su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Cal­i­for­nia Se­nate. Last year New­man nar­rowly beat a Re­pub­li­can ri­val, who wants a re­match if the re­call hap­pens.

Nei­ther party has its hands clean. Re­call sup­port­ers falsely rep­re­sented the cam­paign as a gas tax re­peal to get vot­ers to sign the re­call pe­ti­tions. Leg­isla­tive Democrats then changed the rules for re­call elec­tions to help their guy. What’s made this sit­u­a­tion worse, though, is that this rough-and-tum­ble cam­paign has man­aged to tar­nish the in­tegrity of the state’s cam­paign fi­nance watch­dog, the Fair Po­lit­i­cal Prac­tices Com­mis­sion.

At the re­quest of Se­nate Democrats, the com­mis­sion is ex­pected to aban­don its longheld in­ter­pre­ta­tion of state law that lim­its how much elected of­fi­cials can trans­fer to re­call cam­paigns of other can­di­dates, over the ob­jec­tions of the com­mis­sion’s lawyers and its chair­woman, Jodi Remke.

Re­calls are bal­lot mea­sures, and those cam­paigns are not sub­ject to the nor­mal fundrais­ing lim­its. There­fore, Democrats ar­gue, elected of­fi­cials who want to help an ally fight a re­call should not be re­strained by the usual $4,400 limit on trans­fers from one can­di­date’s cam­paign com­mit­tee to an­other’s.

The com­mis­sion’s lawyers dis­agreed, not­ing that the cap in ques­tion refers to do­na­tions made by elected of­fi­cials, not ac­cepted by them. Nev­er­the­less, last month, three of the four com­mis­sion­ers (all of whom have been ap­pointed by Demo­cratic elected of­fi­cials) told the com­mis­sion’s lawyers to come up with a new read­ing of state law that com­ports with the Democrats’ re­quest. Com­mis­sion­ers are ex­pected to vote on those new rules later this month.

We hope they come to their senses by then. The limit are there to stop elected of­fi­cials from open­ing a cam­paign ac­count for one race for the sole pur­pose of rais­ing money to help some­one in an­other. Lift­ing them would al­low state Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, for ex­am­ple, to tap the $2.8 mil­lion he has raised for a 2018 lieu­tenant gov­er­nor cam­paign he doesn’t seem to be ac­tu­ally mount­ing in or­der to help New­man. Not only is it dis­hon­est to col­lect money from donors who want to sup­port one can­di­date and trans­fer it whole­sale to an­other, it also opens a door to po­lit­i­cal money laun­der­ing.

The rules have been in place for more than a decade. Chang­ing them now to serve one party’s pur­poses would ir­repara­bly dam­age the com­mis­sion’s cred­i­bil­ity as the pub­lic’s po­lit­i­cal watch­dog.

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