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Independent PACs top $17 million on California legislative races

October 30, 2012 |  8:32 am

Ann RavelCalifornia legislative races are being inundated by spending from campaign committees that are independent from the candidates and therefore exempt from normal funding limits, the state’s campaign watchdog agency reports.

Independent expenditure campaigns including committees bankrolled by big business or organized labor have spent $17.1 million on California legislative races since early August, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

"The independent spending on legislative races is greater, the FPPC believes, than ever in the history of campaigns in California," said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the commission. "Clearly, the impact of Citizens United is being felt in this state," she added, referring to the Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to engage in campaigns directly and make unlimited political expenditures.

Much of the money has gone to races in the state Senate that are viewed as key to deciding whether Democrats will achieve a supermajority in the upper house that would allow them to raise taxes at will.

Political action committees funded by business groups and others have spent more than $800,000 to independently oppose Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills in the 27th Senate District, while $635,000 has been spent by PACs, including those bankrolled by organized labor, to support Pavley or oppose Republican candidate Todd Zink of Westlake Village.

The large amount of spending has convinced Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for California Common Cause, that new laws are needed to increase disclosure of who is behind the third-party campaigns.

"Independent expenditures have always been a problem in California and are even worse post-Citizens United," Ung said. "We need stronger laws that ensure these expenditures are truly independent from the candidates."


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Photo: Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press