California Regulatory Agency Wants Tighter Leash on Outside Political Spending

California is considering tightening its campaign finance regulations. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) will vote on new regulations that will significantly affect the role independent expenditures play in elections:

“Independent political spending totaled more than $80.6 million in California’s 2014 election cycle, an eight-fold increase from the 2002 cycle. Once reserved for hit pieces and attack ads, independent expenditures are playing an increasingly central role in campaigns.” – Fair Political Practices Commission

An independent expenditure is defined as a political communication that clearly advocates for the election or defeat of a specific candidate. However, these expenditures are not supposed to be made in any form of collaboration with a candidate, the candidate’s authorized committees, or their political party.

There is growing concern in the wake of the controversial Citizens United decision that not only has spending from outside groups such as Super PACs risen to an all-time high, but the line that is supposed to separate these groups from candidates is becoming increasingly blurred.

The initiative would establish rules regarding the relationship between outside groups and a political campaign. If, for example, “the outside group is established or run by former staffers of the candidate.” or if “the contributing group used the same political consultants as the campaign they contributed to,” the group would be considered to be part of that campaign.

The goals of the proposed FPPC regulations are to prevent donors from circumventing the state’s limits on direct financial contributions to candidates and draw a clear line between a political campaign and those who independently spend in support of them.

According to OpenSecrets.org, total outside spending nationwide skyrocketed from $338 million ($144 million was IE) in 2008 to over one billion in 2012, nearly all of which was independent expenditures.

If the regulations are enacted, they may face legal challenges under the basis that they violate the freedom of association. Regardless, proponents argue that California is challenging the influence of corporations and special interests groups in the state and federal government, and that these efforts will lead to a more representative and transparent government.

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