California Money

By John Wildermuth
Thursday, December 25, 2014

In politics, money matters, and plenty of out-of-work politicians want to hang on to their campaign cash for as long as they can.

But state election law requires candidates to close their campaign accounts and disburse the money within two years after losing an election or being termed out of office. Unless they’re planning to run for another office.

With another campaign on the horizon, however hazy it might be, the cash stays with the candidate — and this rule has forced some veteran officeholders into some unusual political contortions.

For example, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer announced last year that he is retiring from politics, but he has $1.7 million in a campaign account for a purported 2018 run for lieutenant governor.

At age 82, former state Sen. John Burton is head of the California Democratic Party, but he’s opened a not-especially-active campaign for state superintendent of public instruction four years from now.

Termed-out Sacramento Democrat Darrell Steinberg, who until October was chief of the state Senate, is excited about beginning his new career as an attorney and head of his new mental health policy institute, yet according to records at the California secretary of state’s office, he’s raising money for the 2018 lieutenant governor’s contest.

Opening a campaign account gives Steinberg a place to stash nearly $900,000 in contributions and maybe $380,000 more if he decides to transfer what’s left in his 2010 state Senate account.

“It’s one possibility,” Steinberg says about the lieutenant governor’s race. “I’m taking a hiatus from public service, but having funds available makes it easier to get started again.”

With the next statewide election four years away, it’s time for ghost campaigns, with prospective candidates saying all the right things about races they may never enter.

“It’s a parking place,” said Tony Quinn, a longtime GOP operative who was one of the first members of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission when it was formed in the mid-1970s. “While there’s no limit to the amount of money any candidate can have, they have to report it, so it has to be listed somewhere.”

That’s apparently what Lockyer is doing. After more than 42 years in politics, there’s no indication the 73-year-old Lockyer has changed his mind on retirement. His campaign fund hasn’t had an outside contribution in at least two years and consists only of what’s left of the $10 million he raised in 2002 for a run for governor that never happened.

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