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The California campaign finance laws are a set of complicated rules and regulations, governing the spending of money during campaigns. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent regulatory agency that regulates and enforces election laws. The agency has the responsibility of enforcing limits and prohibiting campaign contribution, overseeing the funding of presidential election by the public and disclosing finance information. The body monitors financial reports of a candidate once he/she has raised or spent $5,000 in his/her campaign (FPPC, n.d.). Therefore, all candidates must meet the requirements of FEC to be credible for campaigns and elections.

The regulations state how much money an aspirant should receive from individuals and organizations, how much and how regularly the aspirants report to the contributions, and how much individuals, organizations, and political parties should contribute to the campaign. The laws also apply to non-profit organizations and third-party organizations that seek to influence elections by issuing advocacy and expenditures. Unions, corporations, and individuals should make a contribution of not more than $28,200 to the candidates vying for Gubernatorial, not more than $7,000 to the candidates to occupy a statewide position, and no more than $4,200 for State Senate or Assembly aspirant (Apollonio & Raja, 2006). The limitation is followed throughout the campaign period, and the aspirants are required to file reports regularly.

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The laws have undergone various changes. One clause of the California campaign finance laws that has undergone these changes is dedicated to the limits on campaign contributions. Initially known as Proposition 17 of 1972, Proposition 34 was voted by California State Legislature through ballot via Senate Bill 1223 in 2000. The law regulates the amount of money candidates can use during campaigns and sets how much individuals or organizations can contribute towards election. The law does not apply to campaigns of federal offices or local offices such as county supervisor. This essay will discuss the reforms on limits on campaign contributions and the impacts of the reforms on California politics.

Limits on Campaign Contributions

The campaign reforms date way back from the 19th and 20th century. Since the early 1970s, there has been a public outcry of mistrust of the public to the politicians. The wealthy people in society seemed to influence elections either through corruption or contribution of cash to support their candidates. The public started demanding for reforms to regulate campaign contribution. This is how states have started regulating finance contributions, expenditures, and disclosures. As interest groups to support campaigns increase, the influence on election has also increased to the extent that there have been cases of corruption influence reported. 

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In March 2000, Proposition 25 was voted in place via ballot box. The provisions on Proposition 25 were similar to the provisions in 1998 – limiting campaign contribution to political action committees (PAC’s), candidates for state and local offices and political parties. However, Proposition 25 restricted the spending of statewide candidates to $5,000 and local candidates to $3,000. The public contribution was also permitted in Proposition 25. This proposition was rejected in 2000 by voters. Opponents of Proposition 25 claimed that the $55 million per year of taxpayer money turned off voters, and this measure would have allowed loophole and soft-money contributions bypassing the donation limit (Gersbach, n.d.). On the other hand, supporters of the proposition said that the big-money restriction from political parties and interest groups led to the defeat of Governor. This was an indication that all people had different opinions about the law.  

Proposition 34 came in 2000 to regulate campaign contribution and voluntary spending specifically. Sections 85 and 86 allowed special election to vote for or against Proposition 34. Proposition 34 was notably drafted by the Supreme Court. The major components of proposition are campaign contribution limits, voluntary spending limits, campaign disclose requirements, and limits on lobbyist contribution. Under Campaign contribution limits, Proposition 34 introduced limit contribution from individuals, where individuals could only contribute up to $3,000 for legislative office, $5,000 for statewide office other than governor, and $20,000 for Governor. Small contribution should have more than 100 members and they should have been in existence for six months. Each member of the small committee should not contribute more than $200 a year (FPPC, n.d.). These amounts were less than the limitations set out in Proposition 25.  

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In voluntary spending limits, candidates for assembly should spend between $400,000 and $700,000, those for Senate should spend between $600,000 and $900,000, and aspirant Governors should spend between $6 million and $10 million, as per guide 62 (FPPC, n.d.). Proposition 34 also introduced a new amount of penalty in case anyone violated the campaign law. The fine was increased to $5,000 as compared to previous $2,000 in Proposition 208 (FPPC, n.d.). This was one way of making the law strict and showing the seriousness of the law for the law breakers.

Under the Campaign Disclosure Requirements, Proposition 34 required candidates, asking individuals to contribute to their campaigns, to file a statement with the Federal Election Commission (Branch, 2000). This was to give to the public appropriate information to avoid electoral corruption. Lastly, as for the limits on lobbyists contribution, Proposition 34 prohibits contribution by lobbyists who have potential contacts with candidates. Lobbyists are allowed to contribute to any candidate they would wish to support, but the candidate should not be from the areas where a lobbyist can bring influence (Hogan, Long, & Stretesky, 2010). If lobbyists supported the aspirants from their areas, this would influence elections and maybe, support one aspirant through corruption means.

Just like any other reform in any government, there are those who support them and those that are against. Some of the proponents of Proposition 34 included the Bipartisan Commission on the Political Reform Act, the National Council of Senior Citizens, Dab Stanford, Lee Baca, George Zenovich, the committee for Constitutional Campaign Reforms, and Senator Kevin Murray just to mention a few (Branch, 2000). These proponents argue that the limit initiative is a good move to prevent huge donations from interested groups, and in the case of any violations, the matter would be solved amicably in courts.

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Some opponents, on the other hand, include Tony Miller, California League of Women Voters, Assemblyman Brett Granlund, California Common Cause, American Association of Retired Persons, and Senator Bull Morrow (Van Oot, 2013). Thus, these opponents argued that Proposition 208 had the true will of the votes and that Proposition 34 was just an attempt by politicians to be seen relevant by undoing reforms in proposition 2008. They argued that Proposition 34 was rushed through by both Houses in order to place it in ballot in November. They claim that Proposition 208 was very strict on politicians and wanted to avoid the strictness by introducing new proposition (Branch, 2000). Therefore, they were of the opinion that the law came to favor those who felt that Proposition 208 was strict in their regard.

In addition, the opponents were anxious about campaign contribution, saying that candidates would be less accountable because the special interest groups will contribute to their parties but the contribution will not appear in candidates’ campaign finance disclosures. Furthermore, other opponents assert that the limit on contribution and expenditure limits amount of information candidates pass to the electorate, thus hindering the amount of information voters received (Van Oot, 2013). Their argument was that special interest groups contribution was not always recorded, thus giving a false data on candidate’s contributions.

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Impacts of Proposition 34 on California Politics

In 2008 and 2009, California Fair Political Practices Commission released reports called “Independent Expenditure” and “The Billion Dollar Money Train” respectively. The reports were to indicate the aftermath of Proposition 34. The Proposition 34 initiative states and legislative candidates have raised more than $1billion towards their campaigns. In addition, the reports indicated that more than $88 million was spent from 2001 to 2006 for the individual items that benefited the candidates (Milyo, 2012). This is an indication that positively, the proposition has helped candidates raise their money for campaign as well as benefit from individual and special interest group contribution.

However, there are arguments that Proposition 34 has done nothing to make state legislative campaign spending transparent. Instead, the proposition had driven campaign spending underground and reduced accountability (Van Oot, 2013). Others argue that the limits set in Proposition 34 were excessive and hard to follow, thus contributing to loopholes (Polyakov, Counts, & Yin, 2013). The proposition did not have strict rules on special interest group contribution, and this made the groups slide their contribution without the electoral agency realizing (Polyakov, Counts, & Yin, 2013). This loophole could lead to electoral corruption.

Other impacts are that the contribution of candidate-controlled committees increased to 20% in 2006 from 2001, and that there was 6,444% increase in independent expenditure spending from 2000 to 2006. These figures can be supported by Van Oot (2013) who insists that there is an assumption that the reforms actually limit finances during elections and campaigns. However, the reforms have contributed to the increase in corruption in electoral field. Since candidates are limited to use certain amount of money on election and campaigns, but they want to buy votes and elections, they use dubious means through the use of money and influence elections (Stratmann, 2006). Candidates can use corruptions means to bribe voters, whose money is not recorded in the reports.

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It has also been found that even though the campaign contribution limits are supposed to increase the contribution of small contributors, the limits are undemocratic. The limitation has been found to favor those in power over the challengers because the higher levels of spending favor them. However, since limits have been set, challengers are forced to use the same amount of money with the incumbents. Incumbent have an advantage of recognition. They attract press due to their office name and receive assistance from their office staffs and government-paid constituent mailings. To balance this, the challengers must use money to create their name through campaigns; however, this does not happen because of campaign reforms (Smith, 1995). This indicates that reforms are not democratic.

The campaign finance limitations tend to favor the wealthy candidates and parties over the relatively poor ones. The laws require the candidates to receive contributions from the public in small amounts. Those candidates who attract wealthy public individuals are at advantage to collect money faster as compared to public with less money. To attract a wealthy contributor from the public, the candidates tend to also have ‘good’ money (Stratmann, 2006). This indicates that the reforms favor the wealthy candidates while harming the working class political groups

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) in California is an independent agency that is responsible for regulating campaigns, elections, and funds spending in elections and campaigns in California. One regulation that has seen several changes is the one, dedicated to the contribution towards campaigns and election. Proposition 34 was enacted in 2001 to replace proposition 208. Proposition 34 sets the limits of contribution from organizations, individuals, and political parties. Individuals can only contribute up to $3,000 to those, campaigning for legislative office, $20,000 for gubernatorial aspirants, and $20,000 to those, aiming for statewide office other than governor. The committee for campaign is supposed to have more than 100 people who have met six months before starting their contribution to campaign. Members are limited from contributing more than $200 per year.

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Just like any other government project, the proposition has faced much criticism, with some supporting it while others going against it. Supporters say that the proposition is a good move by the court to limit spending in campaigns and election. At the same time, opponents claim that the proposition contains many loopholes that encourage lack of transparency and corruption. The law ensures that voters are actively involved on campaigns and election, but the drawback of the proposition is that the law seems to support the wealthy groups in society of California.