Twenty-two years ago, as frustration over the influx of money into California politics grew, the powerful state legislature convinced voters to approve campaign finance reform. This limits the amount that donors can donate to individual candidates and makes political parties the main intermediaries in government campaigns.
The idea is that California Democrats and Republicans will work with legislative leaders to decide which candidate to favor and then pour in money to help them win. And since then, more or less so.
But now, fueled by simmering discontent in Sacramento, a new generation of lawmakers are testing the boundaries of the law, touring their party and raising funds for their own campaign to change the speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the most powerful positions in the country of California. political.
Members of the House of Representatives are divided on whether to replace President Anthony Rendon, a Los Angeles County Democrat who has been in office since 2016 longer than any other seat since the 1990s. Rendon turned down Rivas' challenge this spring due to an awkward dead end, but is looking for a rematch. Two days after the Nov. 8 election, House Democrats will convene in Sacramento to elect a leader.
Tension has more to do with leadership style and personality than politics or politics. Both Rivas and Rendon are supported by both moderates and progressives, and also have strong voting records for a bill supported by labor unions and environmentalists.
Rendon's leadership was very careless, passing important decisions to the chairman of the committee and refusing to include his name in the law. The lack of leadership created chaos that angered some MPs. Rivas said his style would be more active. And with a term that allows him to serve up to another eight years (since Rendon will be expelled in 2024), Rivas presents himself as a visionary leader.
At stake is the power to determine what law is in place in California and how the state spends about $300 billion annually. Contests for the presidency are usually confidential, but it is public. Each has consultants and public relations and political operations specialists who help elect Democrats in the assembly.
This is where an unusual campaign finance maneuver takes place. Rivas and the other 18 members of the assembly poured almost $900,000 into a political action committee to elect the people they hope will support Rivas for president. The Democratic Leadership Coalition PAC purchased email ads to support 15 parliamentary candidates, and Rivas traveled the state to help them.
Typically, this office is held by the incumbent president, who is funded by the California Democratic Party, some of which is donated by members of the Democratic House. But lawmakers who support Rivas fear that Rendon will use the money they gave the party to persuade candidates to support him in the presidential election.
Rendon's supporters see the PKK as proof that Rivas is trying to buy votes. They note that the new PAC spends most of its money helping Democratic candidates as well as supporting Democrats in swing constituencies.
And they fear that Rivas is connected to a wealthy donor network called Governance for California, which is made up mostly of venture capitalists and philanthropists from the Gulf and is run by former governor adviser Arnold Schwarzenegger. While its mission is to counter the influence of Sacramento's social unions, the network contributes to legislators across the ideological spectrum, including Labor supporters. He made large donations to Rivas, hired his brother Rick Rivas as a political advisor, and helped Rivas supporters race for speakers.
Bill Wong, a Democratic political adviser and longtime Rendon ally, said the flow of money from the government to California donors to Rivas supporters is "selling our politics."
But isn't politics sold? Many billionaires also donate to the Democratic Party of California, as well as to labor unions and corporations fighting for lawmakers to choose the next speaker. The group spent six times as much on rally racing as Rivas' ally PAC had collected. And the biggest money of all in the general election was independent, interest-funded, and indirect candidate spending, which far exceeded that of the Democrats and the GAC by $44 million.
Rendon said in a statement that fundraising through the Democratic Party was the best way to help candidates as delegates vote at the annual convention on who should receive full party support.
A provision of the Campaign Finance Reform Act, passed by voters in 2000, states that candidates cannot contribute money to an independent spending committee to support or oppose another candidate. However, in 2014, a California High Court judge ruled that the provision was unconstitutional because the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling gave the group the right to spend an unlimited amount on independent spending.
California's political watchdog, the Commission on Fair Political Practice, said the law is still in effect because it has not been struck down by lawmakers or an appeals court.
I asked Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in campaign finance law, what was causing this mess. A generation ago, he said, there was more optimism that new laws could limit campaign spending, but "now it's just free for everyone when it comes to money in politics."
While it's strange to see current MPs breaking rules that their predecessors called "proper campaign finance reform," it seems likely that MPs who have lost faith in their leader could create their own channel for campaign spending. The more important question is how a divided congregation will recover from such a deep loss of faith in its leadership.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.