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Daily Action: Stop CA Legislative Leaders from Hoarding Campaign Cash

Sen. Henry Stern:
(916) 651-4027 (Sacramento)
(818) 876-3352
(805) 815-3917 (Calabasas)

Short Script:
Hello! My name is _______, and I am a constituent of Senator Stern's in ____________, California. I'm calling to urge her/him to oppose Assembly Bill 84, which would give too much financial power over our legislative elections to the leaders of the assembly and state senate. I don't want special interests to be able to send even larger checks to politicians, to be spent at the discretion of either party's leaders. Particularly after Speaker Rendon buried SB 562 last year, I don't trust the leadership to choose candidates who will place the needs of constituents over the desires of big business. Thank you!

As the California legislature comes back from its summer recess this week, leaders from both parties are hoping to pass a newly introduced bill that would shake up the way state campaigns can be financed. They want to create new "legislative caucus committees," overseen by the Senate and Assembly leaders themselves, that would be allowed to accept larger individual contributions than state law currently allows for politicians. Assembly Bill 84 would allow corporations and wealthy individuals to contribute as much as $146,000 annually to these new committees -- money that party leaders in each legislative body can funnel to their preferred candidates in races across the state (though the leaders cannot use the money for their own campaigns).

Our state senator, Henry Stern, is chairman of the Elections Committee -- which means he is under pressure from his leadership to approve AB 84 so it can move to the Senate floor. The leaders hope that provisions in the bill that increase transparency in political fundraising -- requiring more frequent and timely reporting of large donations, for example -- will quell concerns about the new power they're giving themselves.

The leaders' goal in creating these new committees is to be able to fund preferred candidates in races where the state parties have chosen not to make an endorsement. For example, if two Democrats finish atop a "jungle primary" and are set to face off in a general election -- and neither receives enough support during the party convention to receive an endorsement and the financial backing that goes with it -- AB 84 would allow the new legislative committees to provide funds to the candidate leaders would like to see win in November. The bill's proponents argue that it won't increase the amount of money corporations and the wealthy can funnel into campaigns; it will merely encourage those interests to give money to the new committees, rather than the state parties, allowing that money to be targeted more efficiently. 

Such a process, however, would be expected to rain large amounts of campaign cash on "establishment" candidates and incumbents who might not reflect their constituents' wishes as well as an insurgent opponent might. Particularly when it comes to issues that affect wealthy interests to a high degree -- such as last year's single-payer healthcare bill, SB 562, which was shelved by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon after passing the state Senate -- the potential for conflicts of interest is too great when elected leaders too tightly control the distribution of campaign funds.