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The problem with California ballot measure committees

August 24, 2016 GMT

A Bay Area News Group analysis shows how state politicians are getting around the intent of laws meant to minimize the money given to them by special interests seeking favors.

Under state law, business groups, unions and other entities can give a maximum of $4,200 to individual legislators seeking reelection. But there is no limit on how much they can give to lawmaker-controlled committees ostensibly established to promote or oppose ballot measures. Four statewide officeholders and 32 lawmakers have set up such committees, with the biggest run by former Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which has collected $797,200 since 2013.

Troublingly, there is little regulation of what committee funds can be used for. Since 2013, 75 percent of the spending by these committees wasn’t even related to measures that qualified for the ballot, the Bay Area News Group reported. Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, for one, has had a ballot committee for eight years. He’s used committee funds to host fundraisers at Las Vegas casinos but has never actually spent $1 on a measure that made the ballot.

Atkins’ disclosure forms include no questionable items and show her spending the money on ballot causes. But that doesn’t mean this unseemly loophole shouldn’t be closed. Back in May, Senate Democrats killed a bill that would limit the use of these committees the same day they took a step to overturn the Citizens United decision. That’s rich.