Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman has found himself in a pickle over the city’s campaign finance law.
Brandman wants to transfer tens of thousands of dollars from his U.S. Congressional campaign, which he dropped last December, to his campaign for city council. The transfer would give him an immediate fundraising advantage in what will likely be a highly competitive race under the council’s new districts-based election system.
The problem for Brandman is Anaheim’s campaign finance law appears to prohibit such transfers. Brandman formed a committee to run for Congress after he formed a committee to run for council, and a transfer from the former to the latter would be prohibited under the rules.
“Contributions received by the transferor committee on or after the date the candidate formed a committee to run for city office, may not be transferred to the transferee committee established to run for that city office,” the law reads.
Brandman has tried to circumvent the law by forming a new committee to run for council, and City Attorney Michael Houston said he is considering whether the prohibition applies in Brandman’s case. Brandman’s new committee states that it was setup to run specifically for City Council District Three in the city’s new district election format.
If Brandman can make the transfer, it could be a significant boon for his council reelection campaign. According to his most recent reports to the Federal Election Commission, which recorded contributions through the end of last year, Brandman had raised $96,356 in his campaign for U.S. Congress. However, he ended last year with $47,533 in cash on hand.
There’s no doubt Brandman will need as much resources as he can muster for this year’s council race. If he indeed runs in the heavily Latino District Three, he’ll likely be going up against Dr. Jose Moreno, president of Los Amigos of Orange County. Although Moreno lost his bid for council in the 2014 at-large council election, he was the top vote getter in precincts that now make up District Three.
Earlier this year, Brandman led the effort to scrap the current districts map, known as the “people’s map,” and postpone the date that District Three comes up for election until 2018.
Those moves triggered heavy political blowback for Brandman, the only Democrat on the council, including a condemnation from the Orange County Democratic Party. The whole point of going to district-based elections was to give the Latino community greater representation at City Hall, and Latino groups accused city leaders of racist intentions behind their machinations to exclude the Latino district.
Eventually, Brandman and the council majority capitulated to the pressure by restoring the map and allowing District Three to elect a representative this year.
In recent weeks, Brandman’s attempt at a workaround regarding his campaign finance committee has drawn the ire of campaign finance Watchdog Shirley Grindle, who says Brandman is bound by city law (and by public ethics) to refrain from making the transfer. According to Grindle, who said she wrote that part of the city law, Brandman should refund the money to his contributors and ask them to write new checks to his council campaign.
The relevant section of the law was written to prevent local candidates from pretending to run for a higher office, which would widen the candidate’s potential fundraising pool, only to use the money they raised to run for a local office, Grindle said.
Brandman’s attempt at exploiting what might be a loophole — by shutting down a campaign committee and opening a new committee for the same seat — is unprecedented, Grindle said.
“That’s not fair to opponents,” she said. “For Jordan Brandman to [make the transfer] would really not speak very highly of him… he comes from a such a do good family, a religious family. He ought to think about that.”
Brandman didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
Regardless of ethics questions, Brandman could likely challenge the law in court. Fredric Woocher, partner at Los Angeles-based Strumwasser & Woocher, LLP and a prominent campaign finance attorney, says laws barring transfers between committees controlled by the same candidate are probably unconstitutional.
In 2004, an Orange County campaign finance rule along the same lines was declared unconstitutional when then state Assemblyman Lou Correa was sued for transferring $340,000 to his county supervisorial campaign from his Assembly campaign. The judge in the case cited a 1992 federal court decision voiding a California law against intra-candidate transfers.
Grindle says the county campaign finance law in Correa’s 2004 case is written differently from the Anaheim law.
But, said Woocher, with rulings like the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United case in 2010, the courts in today’s judicial environment are even more likely to strike the law.
“Once you’ve raised [the money] you can use it for any legislative purpose,” he said.