When he ran for State Assembly, Jared Huffman was unable to take campaign contributions from lobbyists.
Yet he has already accepted two pledges from state lobbyists for his congressional campaign, including a $4,999 pledge from Sonoma lobbyist Darius Anderson, the Sacramento Bee is reporting.
The practice comes under a legal loophole for Huffman, who represents southern Sonoma County in California State Assembly District 6 that allows federal law to dictate campaign contributions, even if the candidate is a seated official. State law bars lobbyists from contributing to state campaigns, under the theory that such donations create a “pay-to-play” influence on elected officials. However, federal law holds no such restriction, even if candidates are still seated in local office.
The inconsistency is a problem according Meredith McGehee, an expert in campaign finance law with the Campaign Legal Center.
"At the state level, the message is, 'We think these contributions tend to be corrupting when they're given to state employees.' But somehow when they're given to a federal candidate, they're not?," McGehee told the Bee.
If Huffman, or other officials who take funds from lobbyists, is not elected, or chooses not to run, the donations raise concerns that politicians may be tied to lobbyists when vote locally.
Currently, Huffman is , with $415,974 raised for his campaign; lobbyists contributed just under $6,000. Darius Anderson, the Sonoma-based owner of Platinum Advisors, has donated over $99,000 to federal campaigns, according to the Bee.
In 2010, Anderson shelled out $500,000 to the State of New York to settle a corruption probe from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who was investigating claims that financial workers paid off officials to win New York state pension investments.
But Huffman is taking heat from Norman Solomon, a West Marin anti-war activist and author running against Huffman for the North Coast Congressional District seat, who called on Huffman to return the funds.
"We deserve better," said Solomon in a release. "He can start by returning all lobbyist contributions today and refusing any lobbyist money in the future."
Federal law is split on the subject: similar bans in Connecticut and North Carolina were challenged last year, with opposite outcomes. (Courts struck down Connecticut's legislation, yet upheld North Carolina's ban, saying it was a tool for preventing corruption.)
What do you think of the practice? Should California law be shaped more like the federal rule, or does the federal stance need a change? And should Huffman answer Solomon's call to return the money?