Rules were made to be unbroken


    This is not really a column. It’s more like a preamble to a column. The column about this campaign investigation is going to be written after the judge holds a hearing on April 23 to decide whether or not contributors to the “Malibu Citizens Committee for Less Traffic on PCH” will have their names disclosed. Some names are already out because the state investigator and city attorney are taking statements from people, some under subpoena and under oath, and what those people said is beginning to show up in the court documents. My suspicion is that people, after initially trying to skate around what they did, what they gave and to whom, are now beginning to tell the truth. The reason is simple: For breaking the campaign laws of the state or city, generally all that happens is a “tut tut” and a fine and an admonition, “Don’t do it again.” So why the heck is this turning into World War III?

    After all, the names of people who gave to the political action committee the Road Worriers is public, so what’s the big deal about these contributors to the Malibu Citizen’s Committee for Less Traffic on PCH?

    The difference is that apparently there was an attempt to collect larger amounts, like $500 and $1000, a “No, No” under the Malibu city ordinance. That ordinance was instituted by several members of this City Council, allegedly to keep those big money contributors out of local politics. At the time, they talked about big developers. No one mentioned big movie stars.

    Now, Barbra Streisand has as much right to participate in the political process as any other citizen of Malibu. But, she can’t participate anonymously, because no one else can, either. Any group can organize and participate. It can raise money. It can advocate for a candidate. All it has to do is fill out the appropriate paperwork, which becomes public, and limit its donors to $100 under the city ordinance.

    The problem is that politics is expensive. Mail campaigns, phone banks and video tapes cost a lot if you buy them from campaign consultants. It’s also very hard to raise large amounts of money $100 at a time, so there is great necessity, if not incentive, for campaigns to fudge. It’s by no means unique to Malibu.

    People raise money from contributors without being very clear that there are monetary limits on what they can give.

    People do mailings from their business and don’t declare it as a contribution.

    They charge practically nothing for things like a videotape that really should be billed for thousands.

    They contribute a staff member to an election campaign as a volunteer, then continue to pay his salary.

    They set up “educational foundations” or “issue groups” and they just work the issues that will promote a particular candidate in a particular race.

    Some of this is legal, some not. It’s hard to tell which is which.

    They also try taking advantage of a big loophole. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that one can participate in an “issue advocacy campaign” and do it anonymously. For example, someone either for or against abortions could contribute dollars without limits and without disclosing his or her identity. You can imagine how campaigns try and push that loophole to help specific candidates.

    This fight is about whether the rules are going to be enforced. If they don’t enforce them, the competitors are forced to cheat to keep the playing fields level. That’s why, I surmise, the state thinks it is important that the rules be enforced and why the city attorney and the state are pursuing investigations.