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Should the DPOC Place limits on Central Committee Fundraising?

Voters will go to the polls next month not just to select a Democratic candidate for president; there’s a host of state party and county elections — and this means elections for the Democratic Party of Orange County’s Central Committee that takes office in January 2021. At the January meeting, West Vice Chair Victor Valladares tried to push through an emergency resolution calling for elected to  basically keep their endorsements and money out of Central Committee elections.

There are slates of candidates supported by Congressional Reps Katie Porter, Mike Levin and Harley Rouda, and, presumably, Victor didn’t make the cut.  Its unclear, other than endorsements by our new Blue crew, that money has changed hands.

Valladares raised a point that the vast majority of voters want to keep money out of politics (though her didn’t attribute that 90% plus rate to any particular study).  In 2018, I sought to seek a resolution and bylaws change to encourage the DPOC to place limits on how much a candidate for Central Committee could raise (after all, you can’t be against Citizen’s United but turning your head and ignoring a built in fundraising apparatus some Central Committee members have).  The party let this die a slow death.

But perhaps with a boatload of competitive Central Committee races, and the support from a Vice Chair, the party might reconsider placing limits on how much someone can raise.  Valladares measure was sent back to committee where nothing will happen before the March elections.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to a candidate for Central Committee raising funds to run in an election where the vast majority of candidates don’t raise or spend a dime.  Let’s place a limit on it. Like most every city and school district in Orange County does.  Like the state does.  Like Congress does. And funds raised have to be spent on campaign issues for the office you pursue — not one you’re planning to pursue.

The OC GOP’s Todd Spitzer and Andrew Do use Central Committee fundraising as a slush fund; and does Irvine Council member Melissa Fox who has raced up thousands of dollars in credit card payments with no backup to what campaign purposes those charges were made for.

I will be resubmitting my proposal for a bylines change asking the party to place limits on how much money a candidate for Central Committee can accept from a single contributor.  I’m certain it will be drowned in a bathtub.

But let’s look at this OC Register story from 2018 (I’ve bolded some fun parts):

Politicians use a once obscure committee to cloak campaign money

By Tony Saavedra | tsaavedra@scng.com | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: March 1, 2018 at 5:53 pm | UPDATED: March 2, 2018 at 11:56 am

Irvine Councilwoman Melissa Fox is the latest Orange County politician to exploit a rarely used fundraising account to shelter large campaign donations – in her case a $10,000 contribution from a liberal political action committee.

But Fox isn’t alone. Little by little, members of the Republican and Democratic central committees are opening fundraising accounts ostensibly for committee purposes, and using those accounts to skirt contribution limits in their home towns or otherwise divert funds for less-regulated forms of political spending.

For example, in Irvine, the biggest campaign contribution allowed under city law is $490. But Fox was able to control $10,000 that was put into her central committee account on Nov. 2, 2017 by the Orange County Victory Fund, according to public financial disclosures.

Six days before the money showed up in Fox’s central committee account, the Victory Fund received a $12,000 donation from Starpointe Ventures, an Irvine lobbyist that represents developers with projects before the Irvine City Council, including a luxury apartment complex near John Wayne Airport that was approved unanimously.

It was the first time in nearly a year that the Victory Fund received a donation.

“It’s a case of influencing Melissa Fox by giving her a lot of money into her central committee (account),” said county watchdog Shirley Grindle.

Fox did not respond to requests for an interview. Tim Strader, head of Starpointe Ventures, also did not respond.

Financial disclosures show that Fox spent a large part of her central committee contributions on donations to other office holders and candidates.

Last year, Fox spent $17,500 from her central committee fund.

It is extremely uncommon for members of either of the central committees, Republican or Democrat, to open accounts and actively seek money to win an unpaid seat on a partisan board that meets once a month. Board members are picked by voters, based on registration, who choose to fill several seats connected to assembly districts from names that are presented on county ballots.

Every county in California has central committees, and a 2012 report from a state legislative analyst noted that it is “relatively rare for candidates for county central committees to raise and spend more than a nominal amount of money.”

But the low-profile nature of the central committee also means it rarely is tracked by watchdogs or others. And while campaign money can only be used for committee business, experts say the legal definition of what constitutes such business can be broad. Also, unlike fundraising for other elected offices, there are no limits on how much committee members can raise and spend.

In Orange County, politicians are taking it to a new level.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer used his Republican Central Committee fund to park $340,000 in donations that he had received while running for several elected positions he has held during his career. The money went for travel, restaurant meals, hotels, office and retail store purchases, and a security system, as well as donations to other politicians, causes and civic groups.

Spitzer said all the spending was connected to his work on the central committee and the county board. Most of his campaign war chest today is aimed at his current bid for Orange County District Attorney, but he still holds $8,000 in his central committee account.

In 2016, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do raised $23,900 for his Republican Central Committee seat. He used that money to attack a rival for public office. If he’d limited himself to campaign money for his supervisor seat, the limit for individual donations was (and is) $1,900.

Much of of the money for Do’s central committee fund, $10,000, came from a vendor that contracts with a public health organization on which Do is a board member.

While Spitzer, Do and Fox did not do anything illegal by accepting the funds for their central committee posts, experts say they are violating the spirit of financing laws.

“It’s very worrisome, it allows the candidates to go around campaign financing restrictions,” said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College. “It gives large donors outside influence…It’s kind of a slush fund.”

Balma added, “As more and more people find out about it, I think it will be used more.”

At a 2018 bylaws committee meeting, DPOC member Jonathan Adler stated the party had to authority within its bylaws to place limits in how much an individual can contribute to a Central Committee candidate. Revised language for the measure never made it out of the EBoard for the entire DPOC to vote on.

As we are in the midst of a presidential campaign featuring billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, many of the party are upset that these two candidates are trying to buy the Democratic Party presidential nomination with their personal fortunes.  Valladares is actually making the same argument regarding Central Committee seats.  The most Democratic option is let’s have the entire Central Committee vote on it and put it in place for 2024.

One Comment

  1. Scott R Hansen Scott R Hansen February 8, 2020

    Thank you. I feel Democrats have an opportunity this month to elect a Central Committee that is up to par with the party’s greater standing in Orange County. Some behavior and thought patterns that were tolerated when Dems were perpetually out of power, might be suboptimal now that the party has significant influence in the County.

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