Tonight, the city council will vote on Councilman Jose F. Moreno’s long-germinating campaign finance proposal – which is less a reform than a component of his strategy for gaining control of the council in the 2020 elections.
Moreno proposes blocking a councilmember from voting on items that would impact a third party (be it a person or organization), if the councilmember had received a campaign contribution of more than $250 from that third party in the preceding 12-months.
Moreno treads into unconstitutional territory by imposing the same restriction if that third party donated more than $250 to an independent campaign committee that wound up supporting an Anaheim councilmember.
However, Moreno exempts labor unions – the principal funding sources for him and his endorsed candidates – from these restrictions.
The measure would also:
- Prevent a council candidate from raising money more than one-year before an election.
- Give candidates only 18-months after an election to retire any related campaign debt.
Moreno’s campaign finance proposal is:
- It is entirely political.
- It’s aimed at rigging the rules in support of his goal of capturing a council majority in 2020.
- It is unconstitutional.
- It seeks to limit free political speech and regulate how citizens participate in the elections.
- It discriminates against first-time or grassroots candidates
- It’s unworkable.
Timing Is Everything
If you doubt the cynical political intent behind Moreno’s proposal, consider this: why didn’t he introduce it last year when he was part of the council majority? Why wait until now, now when his only reliable vote is District 1 Councilmember Denise Barnes?
This is reminiscent of when Moreno was the lead plaintiff in the CVRA lawsuit to force Anaheim to adopt council districts. Moreno claimed at-large elections violated the CVRA because few Latinos had been elected to the council in a majority-Latino city. The elements of Moreno’s argument were even more powerful present in the Anaheim Elementary School District, where he was a school board member. Yet, Moreno never lifted a finger to adopt district elections in the AESD – because it didn’t help him politically.
Moreno is termed out in 2022. The 2020 elections are his chance to regain a majority and control the city council. That is why he is trying restrict the ability of more moderate, pro-business candidates to raise campaign funds, while exempting his campaign funding sources – unions – from those restrictions.
Unfair To New or Grassroots Candidates
Under Moreno’s proposal, if you decided in March 2019 that you wanted to run for city council in November 2020, you would be legally prohibited from raising even $1 for your campaign. You would be forced to wait months to begin the difficult process of raising money to pay for mailers, collateral, handouts, pens, clipboards, office space, phones – any of the various material needs of a campaign.
This is not only arbitrary and punitive, but it is especially discriminatory against candidates who are running for the first time and learning the ropes. Or grass-roots candidates who still need to raise money and more reliant on getting an early start than better-funded candidates.
Frankly, it is anti-democratic.
More often than not, once the election is over, candidates owe campaign debt – often significant debt – to their vendors. Retiring campaign debt isn’t easy – especially for losing candidates. Moreno’s proposal gives candidates only a limited window to retire that debt. And if they’re unable to do so – then what? Their campaign vendors get stiffed?
One wonders if Moreno and his advisors have thought this measure through.
Based On A False Assumption
Moreno’s campaign finance proposal is premised on the false belief that contributions from campaign donors determine how councilmembers votes – with the exception of Moreno himself, of course, who is above such petty corruption.
This is a flawed, erroneous assumption, and therefore a terrible basis for public policy – especially since it involves government regulating and restricting how citizens can participate in the election of their council representatives.
UNITE-HERE Local 11’s funding and manpower put Moreno in his council seat in 2016. And he has diligently pushed Local 11’s political priorities as a councilmember. Is that because he “owes” UNITE-HERE? Does it mean they bought his vote? No. Local 11 helped elect Moreno because they shares the same political goals.
Similarly, when a businessman or pro-business organization donates to a Lucille Kring or Trevor O’Neil, it is because Kring and O’Neil espouse a pro-business philosophy and vote for policies that favor job creation and business formation.
Moreno should extend to others the benefit of the doubt he grants to himself.
Furthermore, state law states expressly that what Moreno seeks to outlaw is perfectly legal.
Ignores The Constitution
The provision regarding independent expenditure (IE) committees is even more problematic. IE committees are, definition, independent of and not controlled by candidates. It is unconstitutional to bar a councilmember from voting on an item because it affects some third party that gave to an campaign committee that advocated for a candidate’s election. As Anaheim Blog noted in an earlier post:
“Under this clause, for example, a taxpaying-business in Anaheim could contribute a few hundred dollars to the Orange County Taxpayers Association Political Action Committee, which might subsequently and independently try to elect a member to the Council. Moreno would have even that clear an exercise in protected political speech force a Council Member to be prohibited from considering an item.”
This provision would certainly be struck down in court as an impermissible infringement on free speech – as Moreno must know. Yet he plows onward with it.
A Little Help For His Friends…While Hamstringing Opponents
When you remove the “reform” wrapping paper, the reality is Moreno’s proposal is intended to rig the rules and tilt the playing field more in favor of his council candidates and their allies.
Citizens or group of citizens donate to candidates who share their political values – for example, a more free enterprise approach to business and job creation, oppose mandatory unionization or counterproductive government regulations and want.
However, Moreno seeks to rig the rules so that exercising one’s 1st Amendment rights in that fashion actually restricts the supported candidates ability to participate in determining policy related to those donors area of interest.
Unless they happen to be labor unions like UNITE-HERE Local 11 or SEIU or Workers United Local 50 or AMEA. They can fund council candidates without restricting the candidates ability to vote on items of importance to those donors.
Will Moreno Be Honest?
Citizens have a right to participate in the electoral process in order to choose who will represent them in office. They can do that in a variety of ways: by voting, walking precincts, advocating on social media – and by donating their money to candidates and campaigns of their choosing. This right ought to be equally enjoyed by all citizens.
Councilman Moreno, however, wants to use his legislative power to put his hand on the electoral scale and tip it towards his political allies, by imposing rules to hamstring opponents of his left-wing politics while exempting his donor base from those restrictions. This is deeply undemocratic and deserves to be rejected.