Prop 34: Did it reduce money’s influence on elections? The verdict is in.

Allan Hoffenblum
Publisher of the California Target Book and owner of Allan Hoffenblum & Associates

In the November 7, 2000 General Election, California voters, by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, passed Proposition 34, which placed limits on the amount an individual, corporation, labor union or political committee can contribute to a candidate for the state legislature … currently $3,600, or double that if the contribution comes from what is called a "small contributor committee."

Prior to the passage of Proposition 34, there were no limits on the amount that any individual or interest group could give to a candidate, and it was not uncommon for wealthy individuals and others who had an interest in who was elected to the state legislature to, in fact, give large sums of money directly to a political candidate they favored.

Passage of Proposition 34, supporters claimed, would put a stop to this and thus significantly reduce the influence that powerful special interest groups and wealthy donors have on state legislative races.

How has it worked?

Due to that pesky thing known as the First Amendment, courts have ruled that any law that limits the spending of individuals or other interest groups who may wish to influence the outcome of a legislative race is unconstitutional as long as there is no coordination between the individual/interest group and the candidate and his or his/her campaign.

This has created what is known as an "independent expenditure committee", or IE, as they are commonly referred to by those who follow these things.  

Because there is no limit to the amount the IE’s can receive in contributions, in some of the state legislative races currently being waged for party nomination in the June Primary Election, the IE’s are outspending the amount of dollars the candidates themselves are spending on their own behalf.

In the 8th Assembly District, an IE named Public School Champions for Chris Cabaldon has so far spent over $310,000 in support of Cabaldon, the West Sacramento mayor who is locked in a heated two-candidate primary race against Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. The major donor to this IE, contributing over $370,000, is EdVoice, an education advocacy group that Cabaldon headed prior to his running for the Assembly. And expect the full $370,000 to be spent.

Meanwhile, Mariko Yamada, believed by most observers to be the more liberal of the two, is being assisted by an IE named Working Families for Progressive Leadership.  As of this writing, the IE has spent over $200,000 in favor of Yamada, while at the same time spending another $97,000 attacking Cabaldon. And what "working family" is funding this IE?  The California Teachers Association put in $250,000, followed by another $200,000 from two other public employees unions.

In the 52nd Assembly District, a heavily Black district currently represented by Mervyn Dymally, who is termed out this year and running for the state senate, four Democrats are running in the Democratic Primary. An IE named California Alliance for Progress and Education, funded by the California Dental Association, California Real Estate Association and other business interests, has so far spent nearly $400,000 in support of Compton City Councilmember Isadore Hall, a real estate executive.

In the 80th Assembly District, a sprawling district that runs from Palm Springs to the Mexican border, an IE named Opportunity PAC, funded by powerful public employee and teacher unions, has spent nearly $270,000 in support of Coachella Valley school board member Manuel Perez, while at the same time spending an additional $180,000 opposing one of his major Democratic Primary opponents, Greg Pettis, a Cathedral City councilmember. Campaign finance reports filed by the Pettis and Perez campaigns show Perez raising $153,000 by May 17 and Pettis raising $177,000, meaning Opportunity PAC has spent a significant amount more to influence the outcome of this race than the total raised by the two candidates combined.

Republican candidates are not being ignored.  In a hard fought GOP primary race between Nevada County Supervisor Sue Horne and Yuba County Supervisor Dan Logue, California Alliance for Progress and Education, the same IE mentioned above supporting Democrat Isadore Hall, has spent nearly $200,000 in support of Logue.

Leaving my favorite example for last, there is a heated four-candidate Democratic Primary race going on in the 40th Assembly District, located in the San Fernando Valley. One of the candidates is Robert Blumenfield, the former district director for Congressman Howard Berman, whose congressional district overlaps portions of this assembly district.  An IE named Valley Democrats for Change has spent nearly $200,000 is support of Blumenfield.  Now who are these Valley Democrats who want change? Michael Blumenfield, the father of the candidate, contributed $120,000 to the IE, and the Howard Berman for Congress committee chipped in an additional $200,000, and one can expect all of the money will be spent by Election Day.

This list could go on and on.

Remember, sponsors of Proposition 34 said its passage would significantly reduce the influence wealthy donors and powerful special interests had on the election process, and I asked, "How has it worked?"

In a word, dismally.

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