Senate Committee Approves Bill to Close Loophole Highlighted by Leland Yee Case

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee today approved Senate Bill 1467 by Senator Patricia Bates (R – Laguna Niguel) that would close a major loophole in campaign finance law.

“I am encouraged that a majority on the Senate Elections Committee recognizes the need to address loopholes in existing law,” said Bates. “Funds designated for candidate-controlled ballot measure committees should only be used to support or oppose a measure, not promote candidates. Enacting my bill into law will help level the playing field for all candidates and lessen the influence of special interests.”

SB 1467 would bar 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 put 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 has the support of Dan Schnur, a former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission; and Sandra Fluke, a social justice attorney. It will next go to the Senate Appropriations Committee for its consideration at a later date.