California’s Fair Political Practices Commission Adopts Sweeping Changes in Advance of 2016

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission Adopts Sweeping Changes in Advance of 2016

S. E. Williams

Illustration from Forth District

Illustration from Forth District

The California Fair Political Practices Commission recently adopted sweeping amendments to the state’s regulation on Independent versus Coordinated Expenditures.

As the 2016 election cycle ramps up, the changes are designed to ensure a level playing field for all campaigns now and in the future.

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the state’s governmental ethics and campaign disclosure agency, adopted the changes in response to a growing national trend toward increased coordination between candidates and independent expenditure committees—a trend the agency seeks to stop. According to the FPPC, coordination between independent groups and the candidates they support is one of the biggest money-in-politics problems faced by the country today.

The 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, allowed unlimited money to flow into the election process while simultaneously inferring the flow of these dollars would not corrupt candidates because it would be ‘independent’ of candidates. The new FPPC coordination rule strengthens the state’s ability to help deliver on this aspect of the Supreme Court’s promise while at the same time, further protecting against corruption by also working to assure the integrity of California’s candidate campaign contribution limits.

In a statement about the changes, FPPC Chairperson Chair Jodi Remke explained the new regulation adds more situations in which a presumption of coordination exists between a candidate and an outside spender who is expressly advocating on the candidate’s behalf. According to Remki, “FPPC staff has identified situations that dealt with coordinated expenditures in California and in the national arena where it was reasonable to suspect underlying conduct that met the definition of coordination”.

The new FPPC rule modifications define coordination as any situations where candidates solicit for the outside groups; where former staffers or family members occupy senior positions with the outside groups; or, when candidates or committees share common consultants with the outside groups.

The changes strengthen the language of FPPC regulations and expand so called “presumptions” so that when the known facts reasonably imply coordination, the burden of proof will fall on candidates and committees to show they are in compliance with the law.

The expanded presumptions include stricter rules for candidates attending fundraisers, and for the transition of top-level campaign or political staff to Independent Expenditure (IE) Committees. The regulation also includes provisions for candidates and IE committees who share consultants, which FPPC staff found is quite commonplace in today’s political campaigns.

“At a time when we are seeing a proliferation of independent expenditures, this common-sense proposal focuses on well-documented situations that demonstrate a need for changes in the law,” Remke advised. “I am extremely gratified my fellow commissioners approved this measure and see its value.” Remke added, “Our goal is to keep up with the ongoing evolution of spending by outside groups.”

The new rules will help ensure money given to outside groups is spent without the direction or influence of candidates and will also give the agency added control over adherence to campaign contribution limits.

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