Political parties have a right to weigh in on candidates

Endorsements, contributions help inform SLO electorate

letters@thetribunenews.comMay 25, 2013 

Carlyn Christianson

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Accusations that the nonpartisan San Luis Obispo City Council race is being tainted by party politics are a red herring that voters should ignore.

City and county elections don’t occur in vacuums. The party affiliations of candidates are often common knowledge, even if they don’t appear on the ballot. So why pretend that candidates have no political leanings, or even worse, chastise a partisan organization when it does get involved?

Case in point: The SLO County Democratic Party did nothing wrong when it spent $4,159 on a brochure supporting candidate Carlyn Christianson. Because it was not a direct contribution to the candidate, the organization was not subject to the city’s $200 limit on campaign contributions.

Yet some say the expenditure violates the spirit of the city’s campaign regulations.

Kevin Rice, a former council candidate who now supports Paul Brown, posted this query on SanLuisObispo.com: “What’s the point of a $200 contribution limit if one political club can dump in $4,159?”

While it would seem to make sense to limit both direct and indirect contributions to $200, there’s a hitch: Such a rule could be found unconstitutional, according to City Attorney Christine Dietrick.

“Independent organizations have First Amendment rights, and can spend money to express themselves as they see fit,” she told us.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t the first time that a large, indirect contribution was made to a local campaign. In the 2010 mayoral race, San Luis Obispo businesswoman Kristie Molina spent nearly $12,000 on advertising in support of mayoral candidate Paul Brown, who wound up narrowly losing to Jan Marx.

So why is the local Democratic Party now taking heat for supporting Christianson? Should political parties be denied a First Amendment right simply because of their partisan nature?

Of course not. To expect political parties to stay quiet when it comes to local candidates is unrealistic, and it does no service to voters.

Endorsements and contributions are among the key pieces of information that an informed electorate should consider when deciding how to vote. That’s exactly why The Tribune makes it a point to publish large contributions to candidates.

All local organizations — partisan and nonpartisan — have the right to weigh in on candidates and causes and contribute to their campaigns. It’s time to stop trying to suppress that right under the guise of nonpartisanship.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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