David Brooks has a fine column in the New York Times this morning about Nathan Fletcher, an Iraq War veteran who was elected to the California state legislature as a Republican but is now running for mayor of San Diego as an independent. Writes Brooks:
The G.O.P. central committee and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an activist group, spurned Fletcher in the mayor's race, endorsing the more orthodox conservative, Councilman Carl DeMaio. The councilman already had much higher name identification, and this endorsement gives him a huge structural advantage. Individual candidates can only raise money in $500 chunks, but a party can raise unlimited money and funnel it to the candidate of its choice.
Maybe this is something Mr. Brooks might have wanted to consider back when he was cheering on campaign finance restrictions at the federal level ("Initially I was quite supportive of this legislation," as he put it in 2002). A $500 contribution limit could well be unconstitutional under the same standard that the Supreme Court ruled in 2006, in Randall et al. v Sorrell et al. that Vermont's $200 contribution limit for state races was unconstitutional. Or it could be found to violate Article I, Section 2a of the California State Constitution.
Setting aside the legal aspects, as a policy matter the effect of the contribution limits is to weaken the voices of candidates and individuals, while strengthening the voices of political parties, as Mr. Brooks conveys. All in all, it seems like a bad law. Maybe Mr. Fletcher should add overturning it to the agenda of his mayoral campaign.