Monday, March 22, 2010

The Lincoln Club gets federal Judge Irma Gonzalez to suspend San Diego's campaign finance laws

The Lincoln Club Gets a New Stick
by Scott Lewis
March 22, 2010

I'm not sure many people realized just how influential the Lincoln Club of San Diego just became. Well, wait. I should rephrase. How potentially influential the club became.

Last month, federal Judge Irma Gonzalez suspended many of the city's complicated campaign finance laws and I don't think the magnitude of what has changed has set in....Check out what's happened to the Lincoln Club.

Up until last month, if you wanted to support a candidate you could simply put up a billboard for them yourself. Spend as much as you want. It's free speech, have a blast. If you wanted to get together with some friends and each, say, give $20,000 to the effort, no problem. Again, go nuts. But you had to disclose, on the billboard, who paid for it.

If you didn't want it to say your name and wanted to communicate that your cause was more of a general popular one, you might want to put a committee's name on it. For instance, you might want it to say something like "Paid for by the Committee that Loves San Diego" instead of your actual names. If so, the city limited you and your friends to donations of $500 each.

At $500 each, you need a lot -- a lot -- of friends to make something significant happen. Let's say you would want to, like the firefighters in 2004, dump $100,000 into an ad campaign. You'd need 200 people to give $500 each. That might be possible but raising that much money would require a campaign of its own. On the other hand, the Lincoln Club has access to many who could give well more than $1,000 to an advertising blitz if they were motivated enough and the rules allowed.

This is what the Lincoln Club faced. It has an active membership of Republican supporters, many of whom have the means to spend a lot more than $500 each on a billboard. But they were limited to that and with a low limit like that, they couldn't get together behind the Lincoln Club banner and do as much as their money might normally seem to allow.

That's why they sued. A federal judge decided their suit had merit in light of this decision -- enough merit to at least suspend the city's rules for a bit.

And now, the members of the Lincoln Club of San Diego -- and any other group of people -- have the power to raise and spend as much as they'd like. And they can do it behind their organization's banner.

Though it has been active for years in school board and City Council races the club now can deploy far more resources. Instead of just mailers, the group's small membership can now raise more money and put out billboard and television campaigns. It can produce videos and mount websites...

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