Tuesday, July 13, 2004
As Jonathan Friedman reports in The Malibu Times, this Monday, the Malibu City Council was to vote on a proposal to increase contribution limits for candidates for City Council from $100 to $500.
Malibu's Campaign Watch Commission made the proposal in large part in response to a recent campaign in which one candidate, property rights advocate Wade Major, accused an outside group of being a surrogate for his opponents. Major argued that the outside group should therefore be subject to the $100 limits. Major unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order against the group, which spent significant sums of money to support his opponents. Major lost the election.
The Commission believes that the problem is that independent organizations are not subject to contribution limits, therefore the perception of an unlevel playing field is created. And the Commission's solution? Increase the amount of money in City Council campaigns by 500%.
This move will not solve the problem -- independent groups would still not be subject to the limits. Elections will begin to turn on who can raise the most money, not who has the best ideas or leadership. Good candidates who might have run for office will be priced out of the market, as candidates whose opinions agree with folks wealthy enough to pony up $500 will gain a decided advantage over those candidates who represent the issues or viewpoints of those who can't afford such a big amount.
A better way to level the playing field is to set contribution limits on all groups who engage in electioneering. The City Council could also require outside groups to disclose their contributors, and restrict their electioneering for or against a candidate in the period before elections. This would allow outside groups to voice their opinions, while at the same time preventing those groups from dominating the political discourse with their unlimited funds.
More importantly, implementing these alternatives instead of raising contribution limits means that normal folks have the same ability to influence the selection and election of candidates as folks with $500 to spare for a city council race.