Under municipal code, political candidates running for Long Beach city offices are banned from transferring funds left over from former campaigns, said a Los Angeles attorney in a statement that was sent to candidates last week.
Ruben Duran, attorney for Burke, Williams & Sorensen, issued the statement on Friday, Sept. 20 at the behest of some candidates running for political offices in next year’s election. The lawyer provided the statement as an impartial legal analysis since Acting City Attorney Charles Parkin is running to keep the job next year.
In Duran’s legal opinion, when it comes to a Long Beach candidate transferring funds either held over from a campaign outside of the current election cycle or a campaign during the election cycle but for an office other than the one for which the candidate is running, both instances would be a violation of the City’s Campaign Reform Act passed by voters in 1994.
Therefore, according to Duran, Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal can’t use the almost $300,000 in surplus funds she raised during State Senate and Assembly campaigns last year on her campaign for Long Beach mayor. And 7th District Councilmember James Johnson, who is running for city attorney instead of a second term on the City Council, can’t shift the $71,297 he amassed earlier this year from his Council campaign to his city attorney campaign.
Duran points out several provisions in the City’s campaign-finance law for making his conclusion.
Firstly, candidates are prohibited from receiving any contributions outside of an election cycle. Secondly, contributions solicited or accepted are limited to those offices “for which the contribution is made.” Thirdly, “surplus funds” may not be used for campaign expenditures (under both the City’s code and state law). Lastly, allowing transfers from campaign accounts that were not subject to the same contribution limits as local Long Beach campaigns could give “at least the appearance of corruption in Long Beach elections.”
Still, there is one exception to the rule, Duran states. That exception would involve the “limited circumstance” in which a candidate-controlled committee makes “a single contribution (or theoretically several smaller contributions)” up to the limits in the City’s code, since a candidate-controlled committee is considered a “person” and subject to campaign-contribution limits.
The City’s law states: individual contributions for mayoral candidates are limited to $750; contributions for city attorney, city prosecutor and city auditor candidates are limited to $500; and contributions for City Council candidates are limited to $350.
Duran said that the stated purpose of the City’s Campaign Reform Act is to “reduce the influence of large contributors with a specific financial stake in matters before the City Council, thus countering the perception that decisions are influenced more by the size of contributions than the best interests of the people of the city.”
The attorney also points out that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a provision in the City’s law that limits independent expenditures by restricting contributions to individuals or political action committees (PACs) in the case of Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce v. the City of Long Beach on the basis that the limits would be unconstitutional. But, unlike PACs, the campaign committees in an intra-candidate transfer would “enjoy a close connection and alignment,” a “close affiliation” and a “nexus” with the local candidate, Duran stated.
Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit found in 1992 that the State’s ban on intra-candidate transfers operated as an “expenditure limitation” and was deemed unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but Duran states that the language of the Long Beach law “supports a conclusion that an infusion of funds into a local campaign would be a ‘contribution’ and subject to the limitations in the Act.”
A representative from Lowenthal’s campaign has stated that the mayoral candidate never intended to use funds from her state campaign in her bid for mayor.
Johnson, however, said in an email to the Signal Tribune that he disagrees with the attorney’s conclusion, adding that it contradicts the opinion of the Long Beach City Attorney’s Office nearly three years ago.
“The Ninth Circuit ruled in 1992 that under the First Amendment such intra-candidate transfers cannot be prohibited, and the city attorney’s office agreed with that interpretation, both in oral testimony and a written opinion letter, in 2010,” Johnson said. “I think it is particularly curious how this opinion does not even address how it flatly contradicts the city attorney’s 2010 opinion. Having taken both positions on the issue, the city attorney’s office was either wrong then or wrong now.”
Johnson added, “I will confer with my campaign team about how best to proceed, and I will continue to remain focused on reaching out to as many residents as possible about my vision for the city attorney’s office.”