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Political Money And Local Nonpartisan Races?

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Video published May 21, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: How will changes to rules on political party contributions to San Diego city council candidates impact the June primary election?

GLORIA PENNER: This week a federal appeals court opened the door to unlimited political party donations to City of San Diego candidates. This after the city banned such contributions 37 years ago. With me tot talk about this major turn of events just two and a half weeks before the primary election, are Scott Lewis, CEO of voiceofsandiego.org, and David King founder and editor of sandiegonewsroom.com. So David, I called it a major turn of events, is it?

DAVID KING: I’d say it’s a change of degree and it’s more of a temporary blip than a revolution in the way that campaigns will be financed for the City of San Diego. Parties have always been able to support their endorsed candidates, and so long as it’s focused upon members of the parties, and the only reason that we’ve got an unlimited range of contributions right now, no limit at all, is just because of a procedural goof between the courts and the City of San Diego.

PENNER: Ok so Scott, how will, or will the political money change the nature of local non-partisan races?

SCOTT LEWIS: I don’t think much. I think that like he said there is a window right now in which a party may be able to support say a candidate like Lorie Zapf in District 6.

PENNER: $50,000, $100,000, $200,000, wouldn’t that win a race?

LEWIS: Well yeah but somebody would have to raise it. I mean, who wants to spend that much money? They can already spend it in different forms. Why would you want to give it specifically to that candidate? I think that all those questions might come up but I think the big thing is, is like David said, that people, parties have always been able to raise a tremendous amount of money and then use it to support people who are registered -- to advocate to people who are registered in that party. And this just sort of blurs that line, allows them for a minute, for a couple of months to give to the candidate. But over the next little while they will put a limit on that and make it a less significant issue I think.

PENNER: And now, David you were connected to the Republican Party of San Diego. You served as its general council before all this happened.

KING: I did.

PENNER: Why the Republicans, why did the Republicans stir this up?

KING: Well, I think it’s probably because the Democrats didn’t need to change the system. The Republicans would say that there’s two political forces in town, there’s the Republican parties and then there’s the labor unions. The labor unions have the ability to get their individual members to make individual contributions. The labor unions have the ability to get their members to go out and beat the street and walk and get the vote turned out. So the Democrat Party, by in large, isn’t as necessary to Democrat forces in the City of San Diego as the Republican Party is.

PENNER: Ok well, which of the candidates then, in the council races will stand to benefit from this decision at this point?

LEWIS: I think the only one that we’ve heard of that will be really affected by this potentially is, Lorie Zapf in District 6. There might be some expenditures in District 8. I’m not sure that it will be a significant impact. Again, you could already raise and spend this money, this is just a more direct route. And I think that the big issues is -- our laws are built on trying to spread the number of supporters that a candidate is required to get, in order to be a viable candidate, and those laws are under attack. I think that we all need to understand that and understand that it will probably be a lot easier to put a lot more money into these races as these laws are attacked and challenged.

PENNER: And it will be easier because the U.S. Supreme Court decision basically said that corporations can now give to political campaigns.

KING: Correct, contributing money is the only way that people get involved in politics. So it really is participation in the system. It’s protected by the First Amendment. What the Supreme Court has done is limited the number of interests that local governments can use to limit your free speech rights. And basically anti-corruption is now the only legitimate interest to limit your free speech. And you got to basically be able to show that with contributions expenditures are virtually unlimited. But as far as contributions what you have to show is almost a showing of a quid pro quo, and anti- corruption sort of purpose.

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