Politics

Posted on Tuesday, April 8 at 5:40pm | By John Wildermuth

Think last week’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision, where the Supreme Court said rich guys could give to as many congressional campaigns as they like, is, to quote San Francisco’s own Nancy Pelosi, “a very existential threat” to our system of government?

Cheer up. Things could be worse. It could be California.

Despite decades of efforts to change, reform and revise the state’s convoluted campaign finance laws, California politicians have sources of political cash that federal candidates can only lust after.

Up until last week, no individual could give more than $123,200 in contributions to federal campaigns in a two-year period, with a limit of $48,600 to individual campaigns and $74,600 to political action committees.

Because congressional and Senate campaigns carry a $2,600 contribution limit, that meant someone who wanted to give the maximum $5,200 (split evenly between primary and general election campaigns), was limited to backing just nine candidates and seven PACs.

Not anymore. On a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that those aggregate limits were unconstitutional, allowing deep-pocketed donors to give that maximum to all 535 House and Senate campaigns and $5,000 to as many PACs as they can find.

That’s chump change in California, where donors already can give $4,100 per election to Assembly and state Senate candidates, $6,800 for constitutional-office hopefuls and up to $27,200 in the governor’s race.

That’s actually tougher than the way it used to be in California. Up until Proposition 34 passed in 2000, there were no limits on what any one donor could give to a candidate, which explains how Gray Davis could collect $1.2 million from the California Teachers Association for his 1998 run for governor and why state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who is retiring this year, still has about $2 million in his “Lockyer for Lieutenant Governor 2018” fund, money left over from the $10 million he collected pre-Prop. 34 for a run for governor that never happened.

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