Legal Alerts Oct 28, 2019

AB 571 Sets Default Candidate Contribution Limits for City and County Offices

FPPC Will Enforce Limits

Updated Aug. 4, 2020

In an effort to combat corruption — or the appearance of corruption — at all levels of government, Assembly Bill 571 creates identical campaign contribution limits to those imposed on certain elective state office candidates for county or city offices. AB 571 takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.
In passing AB 571, the California Legislature noted that the vast majority of counties and cities in the State have not independently imposed local campaign contributions — although they maintain the local authority to do so. AB 571 is meant to reduce the frequency in which local candidates raise substantial campaign funds from a single contributor. It also aims to stop systems that allow local candidates to, ironically, exceed contribution limits in place for elective state officeholders who have more constituents.
Importantly, there is no language within AB 571 that suggests higher or lower local elective office contribution limits, codified by a city or county, are impacted by this new law. AB 571 neither alters current local contribution limits, nor does it limit how a city or county sets its own contribution limits in the future by resolution, ordinance or initiative after AB 571 becomes effective.
Under existing law, cities and counties were empowered to impose their own contribution limits for elective city or county office, and to administer and enforce those limits. This discretion will remain in effect after AB 571 becomes operative. However, AB 571 does set default contribution limits for elective county or city offices that are identical to those for an elected state officer to the state Assembly or Senate: currently, no more than $4,700 from an individual per election year, but subject to change by the FPPC in 2021, as described below. Such contribution limits become the default in counties or cities that do not have their own codified contribution limits for local elective office. These limits are separate and apart from the restrictions placed on small contributor or political party committees, contribution limits  enforced by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Under AB 571, the FPPC will have expanded administration and enforcement authority regarding the default contribution limits for cities and counties without their own local contribution limits, and makes violations of default contribution limits within the FPPC’s purview punishable as a misdemeanor.
These contribution limits may be adjusted by the FPPC in January of odd-numbered years to reflect increases or decreases in the Consumer Price Index, rounded to the nearest $100. AB 571 also extends contribution restrictions for elective county or city office regarding personal loans and for committees created to oppose recall measures. Additionally, AB 571 allows a candidate for county or city office to carry over campaign expenditures in connection with a subsequent election for that same office, except in instances where a city and county has barred that practice in light of its own local contribution restrictions. AB 571 does not impact how much a local candidate may lend to their own campaign from their personal funds.
AB 571 greatly expands the administration and enforcement that FPPC will need to undertake in reviewing campaign contribution limits for elective county or city office for agencies that have not enacted their own local contribution limits. While this new law allows cities and counties to adopt their own campaign contribution limitations with substantial discretion, AB 571 sets a default restriction that will need to be communicated to many local officials to ensure statutory conformance starting in January 2021. Cities and counties that wish to adopt local contribution limits in light of AB 571 must consider how their own agency intends to enforce such restrictions, as the new law does not provide the FPPC with authority to administer or enforce locally set contribution limits.
If you have any questions about this new law or how it may impact your agency, please contact the author of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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