Campaign cash and fuzzy math

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announces in March 2019 that her office wasn’t filing charges against the police officers who killed Stephon Clark.

Editor’s note: Sheriff Scott Jones and D.A. Anne Marie Schubert are fighting strict donation limits for 2022 election

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert aren’t on the ballot until 2022. But they’re already angling to make sure they can raise and spend enough campaign cash if they seek to stay in office.

As of Jan. 1, a new state law limits individual contributions in city and county elections to $3,000 per primary, runoff or general election campaign. But the law lets local governments set a different limit—and Jones and Schubert have been pressing Sacramento supervisors since May to do so.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, after public calls for more time to give input, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to delay until Nov. 17 a vote on an ordinance requested by Jones and Schubert that would set a limit of $25,000 per person or organization for each election.

That higher limit would let them keep collecting large donations directly from law enforcement officials, groups, companies and interests that have supported them in the past. If there’s a March primary and a November runoff in 2022, the higher limit would mean a single person or group could give as much as $50,000 that year.

Tuesday, one member of the public called in to argue that the proposal would give incumbents an unfair advantage, while another pointed out that the campaign limits would be far higher than those for the state Attorney General of $7,800 per person and $15,500 for small political committees.

Kula Koenig, president of Black Women Organized for Political Action Sacramento and a leader of People’s Budget Sacramento, called for a delay in voting on the ordinance to allow more input from members of the public who want more accountability and a change in law enforcement spending.

During an earlier discussion Oct. 6, Supervisor Don Nottoli highlighted that one person could give as much $87,500 over a four-year election cycle, while supervisors Sue Frost and Susan Peters voiced support for the ordinance. Tuesday, Frost argued that lower limits lead to more “dark money” from independent expenditure committees that is more difficult to track. Peters agreed.

On Oct. 6, Schubert told supervisors that she doesn’t like asking for money, but running a campaign, telling voters about her and correcting the record is expensive in a major county. She said she never thought she would have to raise $673,000 to first win election in 2010, or $939,000 when she won re-election in 2018.

Schubert said she’s not going to influenced by campaign donations. “I’m going to run for D.A., and I’m going to win,” she said.

Jones, first elected in 2010, told supervisors that while it’s technically possible that one person or group could donate $87,500, it’s unlikely.

“I wish I knew more donors like that, but I don’t,” he said.

Jones said he has no intention of running again, but he also said that in 2018.

Jones and Schubert have been among the biggest targets of Black Lives Matter and police reform protests. There have been calls on them to resign, and they could face strong challengers in 2022.

Schubert has consistently declined to prosecute law enforcement officers, even those who kill unarmed civilians. And she has consistently received financial support from law enforcement sources.

She raised eyebrows when soon after Stephon Clark was killed by Sacramento police officers in March 2018, she received $13,000 from two law enforcement groups for her re-election campaign. A year later, her office cleared the two officers. According to an analysis by The Intercept, as of April 2018, about $420,000 of the $1 million-plus in identified contributions for her three campaigns came from law enforcement sources.

Jones has raked in campaign cash from companies that receive or seek business with his department, as well as gun sellers who support his loose policies on issuing concealed carry permits.

The protests and their potential political troubles aren’t mentioned in the request Jones and Schubert made for special dispensation in campaign finance rules.

Instead, in a joint memo with county Assessor Christina Wynn, Jones and Schubert say their proposal is better for voters and taxpayers—and a matter of simple math:

The five county supervisors are limited to campaign donations of $1,200 per individual and $2,500 per group, plus eligible for $37,500 in matching funds. Each supervisor represents one-fifth of the county. So since the sheriff’s and D.A. offices are elected countywide, multiplying by five results in caps of $6,000 per individual and $12,500 per group and matching funds of $187,500.

“We believe establishing an overall limit of $25,000 per donor from any source and excluding matching funds for these three offices is a reasonable balance between running a meaningful campaign and not overburdening taxpayers with matching funds,” the memo says.

But those matching public funds don’t exist; they’re tied up in court and aren’t financed. So the higher limit is some fuzzy math.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Nicolas Heidorn, representing California Common Cause, also urged supervisors to delay consideration of the ordinance, suggesting that public financing can be put into effect.

Jones and Schubert also cite the Sacramento mayor’s office, which has limits of $3,500 per individual per election and $11,650 per political group and which represents about a third of the total county population. Those limits multiplied by three would be $10,500 per individual and $34,950 per group.

In a survey by the county clerk of other California counties of more than 1 million people, the donation limits proposed by Jones and Schubert are higher than those in Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Clara counties. But Alameda and Fresno counties have higher limits.

In their memo, Jones and Schubert also emphasize that their offices haven’t been covered by campaign contribution limits until now and they are open to “undue influence.”

“Currently, a candidate for or office-holder in any of these offices can receive unlimited funds from any source—individuals, corporations, special interests, vendors with the County, out-of-state donors, associations, political parties, etc.,” the memo says. “In order to keep elections for these offices local, pure, and non-political, we believe reasonable contribution limits have to be established.

It doesn’t mention the new state law that sets the much lower limit. But it does warn of “the likelihood of shadow money or ‘independent expenditure’ campaigns that much smaller contribution limits would encourage.”

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