California’s campaign watchdog agency has suspended a longstanding policy banning its members from contributing to federal candidates after one commissioner donated to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.
The decision by the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is responsible for policing campaign finance in California, is drawing criticism from some political reform advocates and former state officials who say the policy was put in place to avoid an appearance of bias in favor of political candidates whose campaigns are scrutinized by the state agency.
Dan Schnur, a former FPPC chairman who teaches political communication at USC and UC Berkeley, said the policy is important because “board members are entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the state’s elections in a fair-minded and even-handed way.”
“Even the perception of bias undermines the credibility of the board’s decisions,” Schnur said. “If you are going to oversee state elections then you should be able to restrain yourself from partisan political involvement during your time of service.”
The panel voted on Sept. 19 to suspend the policy restricting donations and asked the state attorney general for an opinion on the legality and scope of the rules, which some FPPC members say violates their 1st Amendment rights.
“I absolutely believe that both the U.S. and the State constitutions protect my right to make political campaign contributions,” Commissioner Brian Hatch said in an email to The Times. “The issue that the making of campaign contributions is a form of political speech protected by the [U.S.] Constitution has been settled law for nearly five decades.”
The rot always starts at the top.
My experience with bureacracies is that if you want to do something, management will cite the “rules” to deny you the freedom, but when management wants to do something, somehow the rules go out the window.