John Wildermuth is a journalist and political commentator. For more, visit the Fox & Hounds Daily Web site.
While she’s anything but an unbiased source, Janice Hahn makes a good point in her effort to have the state’s election cops shackle Gavin Newsom’s fund-raising efforts in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor.
The Los Angeles councilwoman and her attorneys have filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, arguing that Newsom shouldn’t be allowed to accept money from anyone who gave him more than $6,500, the contribution limit for the LG race, during his aborted run for governor.
By collecting big contributions for his run for governor, spending the cash before dropping out and then raising new money from the same people to finance a run for lieutenant governor, Newsom “has flouted state (campaign finance) law in an unprecedented manner,” Hahn’s FPPC filing said.
The stakes are huge for both Newsom and Hahn, even if the power of the LG’s office isn’t. Since the contribution limit for the governor’s race is $25,900 and Newsom collected more than $2.3 million from a whole bunch of donors before waving the white flag, the San Francisco mayor has lots of deep-pocketed friends who could find themselves maxed out on contributions before the LG race even gets started.
In a week, Newsom has collected more than $250,000 in campaign contributions, nearly half of what Hahn has taken in since she got in the race last September. Add to that the heavyweight endorsements Newsom brought with him — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders of the Assembly and state Senate and the California Teachers Association, among others – and it’s clear Hahn has to do something quick to slow Newsom’s campaign effort.
Until now, that’s involved little more than whiny screeds issued almost daily by her campaign, most of them complaining about how bad it is that Newsom dared to challenge Hahn after he airily dismissed any possibility of running for LG when he was still in the governor’s race.
Of course, Garry South, Hahn’s current campaign guru, was running the Newsom for Governor effort at the time and enthusiastically joined the mayor in trashing the lieutenant governor’s job (See: Planet Pluto, Aliens from the).
None of that takes anything away from Hahn’s complaint, even though Roman Porter, executive director of the FPPC, has told reporters that state law allows Newsom to double-dip from contributors, since a new campaign sets a candidate’s financial meter back to zero.
But it doesn’t, really. Sure, Newsom might not be allowed to take physical things like money, computers, buttons (“Newsom 2010,” perhaps?), mailing lists and other campaign gear from his campaign for governor, but that $2.3 million bought a lot more than folding chairs for the headquarters. It let the San Francisco mayor travel around the state, meeting people, making contacts and getting his message out to people who might otherwise never have seen him or heard about him.
Every trip he made, hand he shook or speech he gave during his run for governor is one he doesn’t have to do on the short bankroll a candidate for lieutenant governor typically has. The impressions he created and the friends he made aren’t going away because he’s now running for another office. While Newsom’s financial fresh start in the LG race may be legal under the state’s current campaign finance law, it gives Newsom – and any other candidate who decide to follow the same route – a chance to get – and use — the type of name recognition that only the money that comes with a campaign for governor can buy.
That’s an unfair advantage that needs to be eliminated, if not for this race, then for the future.
Because if anyone thinks this is a one-time problem that will never come up again, remember that in politics even bad ideas keep reappearing. And if Newsom ends up in a statewide office? In the world of political consulting, any strategy that results in a win becomes, by definition, a good idea that can be used again.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.