At a time when many are struggling to make ends meet, others are toiling to find ways to get money to their favorite candidates. The truth is that getting money to one's chosen candidate through legal means is hardly a difficult endeavor. Even so some still resort to illegal avenues. Consider the following example. Let us travel back in time. California just elected a new (former) governor, Jerry Brown. You really like Governor-elect Jerry Brown. You already gave him approximately $25,000, the individual contribution limit. But you think, maybe that just says, "I like you Jerry," and a little more might say, "I love you man." So what are you to do? Well, you can spend an unlimited amount of money on a so-called "independent expenditure" advertisement. But really, what's the point? Brown just won the election, and you hate thinking of things to say in those ads anyway.
Another option is that you could help Brown throw a big party. You wouldn't be alone. Brown raised over $400,000 in private contributions for his inauguration events. About 68 people gave Brown $5,000.
Unsurprisingly, many of those donors, including labor groups, developers, and Indian tribes, have serious business before the state. We're all adults here. Can we really argue that people (or at least many donors) give thousands of dollars to politicians and political candidates because they want to tell them that they really, really like them, or do most donors want something in return?
Now if your favorite candidate is a Board of Supervisor or countywide candidate in Riverside County, no need to worry about maxing out on campaign contributions. There are no limits! And it looks like there won't be anytime in the near future. Last week the Board of Supervisor Jeff Stone withdrew a proposal that would have Riverside relinquish its title as the most populated county in California without contribution limits for such candidates.
There are, however, limits for legislative, federal and statewide candidates hailing from Riverside County. But some people don't worry too much about those pesky laws. Larry Minor, CEO of Agri-Empire, one of the United States' largest potato growers, really liked Supervisor Jeff Stone. When Stone decided to run for state Senate, Minor decided his family and friends should like Stone too. So Minor asked many he knew to give Stone campaign contributions and then reimbursed them for their troubles. A grand jury indicted Minor for these and other illegal activities, and he pleaded guilty to two charges last week.
Will money always find a way, legal or otherwise, into our political system?
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday at noon. She is the Director of Political Reform at the Center for Governmental studies and an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School.