Measure that Would Have Closed Loophole Highlighted by Leland Yee Case Fails in Committee

Friday, May 27, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Majority party members on the Senate Appropriations Committee today refused to move forward Senate Bill 1467 by Senator Patricia Bates (R – Laguna Niguel) that would have closed a major loophole in campaign finance law. Technically, the bill was “held” on the Appropriations Committee’s “Suspense” file.

“On the same day that the majority party approved a non-binding ballot box poll of California voters on campaign finance reform, I am disappointed that they did not seize the opportunity to approve an actual reform measure,” said Bates. “Because of today’s decision, politicians can continue to sidestep limits on campaign finance contributions to promote themselves.”

SB 1467 would have barred candidates and elected officials from using money from candidate-controlled committees to promote themselves, their candidacies or the campaigns of others. Bates authored her bill in response to the case of former State Senator Leland Yee, who described the loophole when soliciting bribe money from an undercover FBI agent. A federal judge sentenced Yee in February to five years in prison after he acknowledged accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and trafficking weapons.

Existing law imposes campaign contribution limits of $4,200 per election for Senate and Assembly campaigns, $7,000 per election for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner, and Board of Equalization campaigns, and $28,200 per election for gubernatorial campaigns. These parameters are intended to limit the disproportionate influence of wealthy donors and special interest groups, ensuring Californian voters can participate equally in the political process.

Candidate-controlled ballot measure committees, on the other hand, are not subject to any contribution limits. Contributions to these committees are often $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, and even as much as a million dollars. Some candidates have used these committees to boost their name identification and show themselves in a positive light without having to abide by monetary limits associated with personal campaign committees.

In a 2009 Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) report titled “The Billion Dollar Money Train,” the FPPC found that donations to candidate-controlled ballot measure committees shot up a staggering 200,000 percent in the five-year period after Proposition 34 was passed (page 4).

SB 1467 had the support of Dan Schnur, a former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission; California Common Cause; and Voices of Progress, whose California State Director is Sandra Fluke. The Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee approved SB 1467 on a bipartisan vote of 4 to 1 on April 19, before being “held” in the Senate Appropriations Committee today.

Earlier in the day, the State Senate approved Senate Bill 254 (Allen and Leno), that would place a non-binding question on the November ballot asking voters whether California’s elected officials should propose and ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and other cases.