June 3 2015 12:37 PM

Political parties have special rights to give more money

money

One of the stranger San Diego political battles brewing for the 2016 season is a challenge to County Supervisor Dianne Jacob being mounted by fellow Republican Joel Anderson.

What makes this strange is that Jacob shows no evidence of political weakness. Her image of backcountry populism plays well with her East County constituents, and she has picked her fights carefully.

And let's be honest, her real opposition is not Joel Anderson, the likeable Senator from East County's 38th District. Her real opposition is the San Diego County Republican Party and the usual collection of characters that control the party's organizational spending.

And why would the party take on one of their most respected and long-time public servants?

One reason, it seems, is that Jacob got crosswise with this group when she voted to lower the limit on political contributions allowed to county supervisor campaigns by—you guessed it—political parties.

Throughout our country, political parties have a special right that no other individuals or organizations get: the ability to give substantially more money to political candidates, even in nonpartisan local elections. This partisan advantage has increased as spending limits have been imposed on individual citizens over the last several decades.

Another reality is that the small covey of political operatives who control local Republican spending are not particularly popular with Republican elected officials themselves, nor the vast majority of Republican voters who have no idea who actually runs "their" party. Few San Diegans likely know, for example, that their local Republican leadership includes characters with questionable ties to international online piracy and hacking operations.

But, to their entrepreneurial credit, this cast of Republicans has recognized the business advantage afforded to political party corporations, and in turn, has seized control of the local Republican governance structure.

So, when Jacob and her fellow supervisors voted to put limits on political party spending, they landed a blow to the well-honed business model of the party's controlling faction, one that is anchored by its ability to legally launder political contributions through the party.

When the limit to county supervisor campaigns was lowered recently, party corporate officers publicly opposed these changes as undemocratic infringements on their free speech. What they were privately wound up about, however, was the loss of their special advantage to funnel contributions through the party, in order to avoid the limits on contributions made by individual citizens, as well as their ability to use the party organization as a mechanism to obscure the true source of those contributions.

Hard to miss the irony, right? The same people who herald the benefits of personal liberty and individual freedom, benefit— politically and financially—from a political organization that derives power from government rules that limit the free speech rights of individuals.

But, to be clear, whether or not San Diego's party insiders are "sketchy," these brutes are simply running the same game that political parties all over the country operate, locally and nationally.

The targeting of Jacob simply puts a local spotlight on the root cause of our national political dysfunction. The Democrats, for example, who campaign against "corporate influence," have written laws to give special exemptions to political parties and labor unions, which are private corporations. They just happen to be their corporations.

It's a sad irony that increased gamesmanship is an inevitable consequence of well-meaning election and campaign finance "reforms." By limiting the free-speech rights of individuals to contribute and otherwise assist candidates who seek public office, we have driven political spending, and the candidate-selection process itself, into darker and darker circles. This is because, like it or not, money will always find politics.

By giving political parties (corporations organized under section 527 of the IRS tax code) legal privileges that no one else gets, we have further shifted our election process from one designed to serve people into a more tightly controlled and calculated insider game.

Not surprisingly, individual citizens of all political beliefs and social backgrounds are the victims.

Not surprisingly, individual citizens of all political beliefs and social backgrounds are leaving both parties altogether.

Chad Peace is managing editor of the San Diego-based news website Independent Voter Network.

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