Stupid local laws and the rise of unfettered independent expenditure committees are making a mockery of the election process. Candidates are no longer in control of their own messages and in many local races they are not relevant to the debate.
Mountain View is just the latest example of this farce. Candidates are saddled with a "voluntary" expenditure limit of $22,689. The word voluntary is for legal purposes, as Mountain View cannot constitutionally restrict campaign spending. But woe to any candidate who does not agree to the spending cap—outside of the San Jose mayor's race. The bad press for "spending" would likely doom most candidates. (Full disclosure: I did some volunteer work on Ellen Kamei’s campaign.)
Independent Expenditure committees are able to spend unlimited funds, and candidates are not allowed to coordinate with them on messaging. Those unauthorized messages sometimes help, but more times they hurt their preferred candidate. Regardless of whether they assist or harm a contender, the sheer volume of messages can drown out a candidate's attempts to communicate with the electorate. Candidates’ messages simply get lost in the avalanche of unlimited campaign spending by these independent committees.
The problem isn't limited to Mountain View. The mayoral and council candidates in San Jose are subject to the same restrictions. Candidates, whether they like it or not, must live with the messages sent on their behalf by special interests. And most voters are blissfully unaware of who sends out the information. In fact, they often assume the candidate for whom the missive is supposed to help is the author.
More often than not, the local "hit" piece in a voter’s mailbox, comes not from a candidate but from an independent expenditure committee. But negative mail does not win elections; it simply makes voters less likely to participate in the electoral process. This is a major reason why we expect the lowest mid-term voter turnout ever Nov. 4.
Sadly, many political consultants still haven't realized that negative mail actually hurts their own candidate. But you can see it in the polling and in the declining voter turnout for elections. Besides, bypassing client permission to send out negative information on a political opponent is nirvana for some pols.
To end this idiocy, we need to get rid of expenditure limits for candidates, with the caveat that all who donate to the campaign will be posted in real time on a website. Transparency is the key. Voters and more importantly, their opponents, would know who is really funding the campaign.
In the final analysis, it is buyer beware for voters. They will have to take responsibility for evaluating information which, surprise, is not always truthful.