Current System. Current campaign finance rules are a complicated set of limits on maximum campaign contributions based upon the office sought and the nature of the contributor. These limits are adjusted periodically to reflect increased costs in campaigning. You can learn more about current rules by visited the web site of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which has the responsibility to enforce campaign finance rules.
Unintended Consequences. The most significant change in campaign financing over the past ten years has been the dramatic rise in spending by independent expenditure committees. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that expenditures not controlled by a candidate are protected by the Constitution’s free speech protections.
These Constitutional issues have also made it impossible to limit the amount of money that wealthy candidates can spend on their own campaigns. This has resulted in statewide races being increasingly dominated by wealthy “self-funded” candidates.
Finally, the preferential treatment given to Political Parties has dramatically increased the role of Political Parties in the financing of candidate campaigns. The common practice, by both major parties, of “directing” contributions from local county committees to support candidate campaigns outside of their counties has come under increasing scrutiny.
Ironically, all of these unintended consequences have made campaigns less transparent and reduced the ability of non-wealthy candidates to maintain control over the conduct and message of their own campaigns.
History. Campaign finance rules have changed repeatedly over the years. A number of initiatives passed by voters have been struck down by subsequent legal challenges. You can get more information on the evolution of California’s campaign finance laws by using the research tools on this site.
New Ideas. Nowhere is there a greater need for new ideas than on campaign finance. None of the reform ideas implemented in California have had a sustained impact on campaign. Current proposals range from full public finance of campaigns to the elimination of contribution limits in favor of instantaneous, internet-based disclosure.
IVP is currently engaged in researching ways to combine campaign finance reform with other structural reforms in an effort to produce a comprehensive reform plan.
This conversation has been engaged over and over again, yet things seem to just get more convoluted rather than less. This may be an issue that needs a fresh start based on today’s realities and technology.