Campaign finance reforms refer to the attempts made in order to regulate how funds are given to be used in campaigns for politics. One such campaign finance reform imposed over time since 1990 is the contribution for campaigns and imposition of limits for expenditure. The aim of this reform was to promote an atmosphere known as small town for elections held in California. This was a way of ensuring that elections served the values held by the community. It was also a way of ensuring that the cost of carrying out campaigns was lowered by ending what is known as ‘U race’ for raising funds. This paper will discuss how the contribution for campaigns and imposition of limits for expenditure has impacted the politics of California.
How the Reform has Impacted on California’s Politics
A Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed by the congress. It was also named as McCain Feingold bill. This was because the two main sponsors of the bill were John McCain and his counterpart Russ Feingold. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed on the 14th of February 2002. The bill passed with 240 members voting for it and 189 members voting against it which includes 6 members who were not part of the voting. The final part of passing the bill was done by having a minimum 60 members voting for the bill in the senate which was the requirement for making the debate end. On the 20th of March 2002 the bill passed the senate with 60 members voting for it and 40 members voting against the bill. The passing of this bill has led to changes on how money is spent in California when showing support to running candidates.
Before California decided to come up with limits for contributions for running campaigns, California had been using other limits for elections that are state wide. In order to reflect inflation levels the watchdog of politics in California has raised the prevailing caps by up to 6 percent. From the votes cast recently in California, the donations allowed candidates running for the seat of governor, the seat of attorney general, the seat an insurance commissioner and the seat of the controller were all raised by the Fair Practices Commission. This changed how political parties now spend their money when promoting themselves as well as allocating money for making measures for the ballot.
Methods used to impose the Reform
The methods used to impose the reforms included setting up a ceiling for expenditure that was made voluntarily, allocating limits for contributions that were mandatory and creating a mechanism that would be effective for enforcement. To be able to make the methods effective, the limits set up for contribution for campaigns had to be reasonable. In addition, the limit set up for voluntarily spending money on campaigns had to be similar with the one enacted elsewhere. This means that the enacted limitations are not supposed to stop candidates from carrying out their campaigns in an effective way but reduce corruption cases. This led to the enactment of regulations which today apply to individual persons as well as large and small corporations.
The limitations enacted on contributions for campaigns included a number of things. The first limitation was the declaration of an individual to be a candidate in an election. No individual was supposed to make any contribution or any official to accept to receive any contribution that was being made for any campaigns before the opening of the period of nomination. The period of nomination is usually set as 113 days before the date of the election. The second limitation was the limit for contribution. If a candidate chooses to follow Section 2.05.050 to limit the money they spend on campaigns, then it was expected that they accept funds not exceeding $500 from one source in one election. This led to political parties in California now regulating their candidates and how the committees of the candidates plan for actions in politics.
If a candidate feels that they cannot agree to the limit set by Section 2.05.050, then the individual can accept funds not exceeding $250 from one source in one election. It was also expected that the limits set for contribution would be subject to adjustments per year. Due to this, politicians in California now hold talks annually discussing the changes to make in running of campaigns. The third limitation set was how contributions were to be returned. Contributions were not to be considered accepted if it has not yet been cashed, negotiated or have not yet been deposited. The money would be expected to be returned before the date of closing campaigns to the person who donated it. If the money would not have been returned by then it would then be reported. This has impacted on the politics of California positively by building trust to the public.
The forth limitation was the contributions by family members. The contributions made the husband and that made by the wife would be considered as contributions made from separate individuals and not an aggregate. Any contributions made by children who were not yet eighteen years would be considered as a contribution that has been made by their parent or their guardian. Due to this, children in California today are able to involve themselves with active politics. The fifth limitation was on personal funds. The limitations set on personal funds were not expected to apply to the candidates contributions; to the committee running his/her campaign but would apply on funds that the spouse of the candidate gives. This has led to families in California supporting dreams of those among them who wish to vie for political seats since they cannot worry about going to bankruptcy from campaigns.
For the ceiling set on expenditure that was made voluntarily, a number of issues had to be considered. The first thing is the amount towards any voter who is registered. Any candidate or any committee controlling campaigns was expected to spend no more than 50cents per voter who is registered on running campaigns. This has led to politicians in California becoming more accountable of their finances. The total number of voters who are registered will be only released by the sitting city clerk on the day that campaigns for nomination start. Before accepting any funds contributed for campaigns, a candidate is expected to visit the city clerk and file a statement for approving the acceptance as well as rejection of the ceiling set on expenditure that was made voluntarily. This has led to the public now believing in the politicians in California.
A running candidate who signs to accept the ceiling set on expenditure that was made voluntarily is not expected to spend in total past the ceiling set. Hence, if any candidate signs to accept the ceiling set, then they will use their funds as per the limit on Section 2.05.0408.1. This has reshaped the way politicians advertise themselves in California. If a candidate signs to reject the ceiling set, then they will use their funds as per the limit on Section 2.05.0408.2. When a committee running a campaign spends funds given, then the candidate should count it as expenditure. This has made politicians in California to be more aware of the financial activities of their campaigns.
Penalties for Violation of the Reform
For any violations made on this reform, the violators are subject to prosecution. According to the bill supporting this reform, if a section, a subsection, a clause, a subdivision, a phrase, a sentence or a portion of this reform is said announced as invalid by the court, that decision is only for that portion and hence does not include the portions that remain. The city clerk is expected to give certification of this reform being adopted. The clerk should also make a publication summarizing this reform being adopted. This has resulted to more publicity in politics of California.
Publicizing the Reform
The clerk should make a poster of a copy of the reform being adopted and keep it in the office five days before it is adopted. The clerk should also make a publication which summarizes the reforms with all the names of the members who vote in favor of the reforms and those who vote against the reforms. The reforms should take place after 30 days of adoption of the reforms. This has resulted in enhanced public awareness of political activities in California.
Donation Limits Set
The donation for a candidate running for a governor’s seat was raised to $21,200 to the maximum up from $20,000. For the other candidates running for the other seats the maximum for the donations was set at $5,300 up from $5,000. In proposition 34, the package for campaign finance reforms which was passed by voters in the year 2000 allows for the adjustment of the limits for spending in the races for the state seats after each two years. According to advocates for consumers, the vote by the commission led to undermining of the campaign spirit as it increased limits before fully applying the existing ones. This has resulted in the attraction of more candidates in the political seats of California.
Issues of Concern on the Reform
The limits set to govern races that were state wide were not used efficiently until 6th of November which was the day that followed the day the general elections were held. The new limits were already there but ruling by the commission made an exception for the senate and the assembly candidates to collect funds that were higher than the new limits by using the previously existing committees for campaigns.
According to Doug Heller who works with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer rights based in Santa Monica, the voters allocated limits to the funding for campaigns so that they could stop the negative influence campaign contributions have. Heller further added that having politicians to write the laws that would raise the limits for funding is not in line with law, or an interpretation of what the public wills. Notably this has impacted on California’s politics by resulting in frequent amendments of laws in California.
The Center for Governmental Studies which is located in Los Angeles president, Mr. Bob Stern said that the language used in Proposition 34 gave the commission no other choice than raising the limits. Mr. Bob Stern saw the main problem, as the existence of limits in the existing law covering contributions that were individual. The limits are higher compared to federal limits. Mr. Bob Stern saw it as outrageous that the Governor Mr. Gray Davis can be able to get $2,000 from him if he was to run for presidential seat but the Attorney General Mr. Bill Lockyer would get above $20,000 if he was to run for the seat of Governor.
Implementation of the Reform
Notably, the commission was highly devoted for the implementation. Most of the staff members had been allocated to the implementation process of the new Proposition 34 that the Legislature supported and was passed by voters of up to 60% in 2000. Proposition 208 was repealed in this process, which was a measure for reform with limits that were tougher and had been in courts for a while.
The commission made of five members; two appointees for the governor and an appointee for attorney general, secretary of state and state controller. The panel approved the adjustment of limits with a vote of 4 against 0. In races for the legislature contributions increased to a maximum of $3,200 up from $3,000. For the committees that were small contributors’ contributions increased up to $6,400up from $6,000. This has led to California’s public now being more aware of politics in California with the public being involved in the donations highly.
The model law by the CGS sets a limit for contribution at $2,500 per candidate on one election. This goes in line with the federal limit, which is meant to apply to Presidential candidates, The Senate candidates and The House candidates. Having such a limit reduces the contributions of California up to 90% for the governor’s race. The proposal by the CGS asks of candidates to collect small amounts of funding from large numbers of individuals in order to qualify getting public funding. This has led to more clarity on the political activities of California today. When candidates qualify to get public financing, they are expected to receive the funding by following two steps.
The first being an amount for base funding which will be allocated by establishing what the candidates who won the previous two elections the seat being run for spent. All the eligible individuals running as candidates who are faced by existence of opponents who are competitive would first be given 50% of the base amount. The second step is the running candidates being eligible for receiving additional funds from the public in form of small donations of between $5 and $100. In order to make candidates have the incentive to go and raise smaller donations from the public, gifts from the residents of California would be allocated at a ratio of 4:1. This means that, for a donation of $20 it would be harmonized with a donation of $100 of public disbursement, which will go to a level of 100% of funds for the base campaign. If a candidate is in a race that is competitive then they can be awarded up to 150% of funds for the base campaign. This has led to aspirants for political seats in California being more aggressive with their campaigns.
Due to the reforms made on laws for funding campaigns in California now donors have the right to contribute up to $3,900 to the State Assembly and the Senate candidates. Statewide candidates are able to get funds of up to $6,500 of funds from donors. The governor can now get up to $25,900 of funds from donors. This is during both the primary and general elections. Today the Federal law in California allows donors to donate $2,500 as individuals to the candidates seeking the seat of the Senate. Receiving Public financing has impacted positively on many candidates at getting the opportunity to hold campaigns that are competitive. They are now able to go head to head with wealthy candidates who finance themselves even though the funding they get would not match what the wealthy spend on their campaigns. The candidates are able to get a chance to start, be seen and send their message to the people effectively. However this reform appears to some people as skewed through money with the system of politics itself being responsive to the wealthy. A clear evidence of this is when the CGS CEO, Mrs. Tracy Westen, commented by saying that the allowing of couples to donate funds over $100,000 to the candidates seeking a governor’s seat makes it look like the people who contribute largely have a greater influence than the people who contribute small amounts. This means that those who contribute little amounts influence very minimally the process of making policies.