Campaign Laws Can Be Absurd

Chuck Reed is a good lawyer. His recent appeal of a $1 fine for violating FPPC rules—by giving $100,000 to support Councilmember Rose Herrera’s 2012 re-election campaign—was successful. But it was still cheating and it was wrong.

Almost all of the laws that govern contribution and spending limits are unconstitutional. But everybody should have to play by the same wrong rules. Reed clearly violated the law on the books. By winning the court challenge he proved that the rule was unconstitutional. However, he still provided an unfair advantage in the election because the other side obeyed the law that was in place. (Full disclosure: I ran the campaign of Herrera’s challenger, Jimmy Nguyen.)

The same could be said for Sam Liccardo’s current ethics issue. Did Liccardo begin fundraising before San Jose campaign rules said he could? Of course. But the law is unconstitutional for many of the same reasons the Reed violation was overturned. Liccardo has chosen to give some contributions back, but only those that were solicited on his behalf before he could “officially” ask.

The real problem is that to get a law declared unconstitutional one has to break it. To get proper standing in a court of law one has to experience some harm from the law being enforced. There are a plethora of local laws on the books that remain unconstitutional. But few challenge existing laws, because it takes resources to do so.

There should be a better way, but this is the reality of our jurisprudence system. In the final analysis, doing the right thing is not always about whether it is legal. And there are plenty of instances where people are free to make bad decisions. Lying is actually a constitutionally protected form of free speech in political races. It is not a crime, but it does not make it right.

And this brings us back to the main point: People should play the game fair. Just because one can get away with cheating under the wrong rules, doesn’t mean one should violate the rules—unless you consciously and publicly decide you are going to challenge the law’s validity in the court system. At least that would level the playing field.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. And this brings us back to the main point: People should play the game fair.

    Wow this is the pot calling the kettle black isn’t it Rich?

    I don’t know exactly what your ties were to James Rowen, but having that guy spout crud off 4 years after I ran was enough. I paid John Mlinarik to shut him up, and he did. Rowen insinuated that he was on your payroll for a spell (If you have an issue with me repeating that, you should take it up with James). I wouldn’t exactly call that playing fair Rich.

    Also the signature gatherers hired to repeal the marijuana referendum didn’t exactly play fair either (They tried to bait and switch my wife and I) That was one event I know you played a big part in.

    So don’t go crying, “OH IT’S UNFAIR!” when your team loses a battle Rich. You win some, you lose some. Just get over it. It wasn’t *just* an extra $100k that won for Rose. She stayed away from smear campaigning, canvassed her district daily (would have been neat if she wore a fitbit) No matter how much mud you want to sling at somebody, if they’re willing to go door to door and meet every person in their district and you can’t, or won’t, you lose.

    • Rose (her campaign) didn’t play all that fair. Remember, Nguyen campaign signs were turning up missing from Rose’s neighbor’s yards, some repeatedly after the first and subsequent replacements went missing. Some of the victims (theft) found Nguyen signs in City trash cans at a nearby park. Ross’s husband was caught walking into the park under the cover of darkness with an arm load of Nguyen signs presumably to dispose of them rather than post/display them in the park which would probably in and of itself been illegal (I’ll have to check with city sign ordinance expert Oliverio). I think the husband’s explanation was that pranksters were putting the carpenter’s signs on his and Rose lawn and he was disposing them the best way he knew how….

      • Weed I was there every day. My daughter was going to St John Vianney at the time, and I was in the habit of driving through the neighborhoods daily(I was tracking Atul Lalls attacker, another subject altogether). I know the person who claimed to have signs missing. She’s a liar. She didn’t have any signs on her lawn, ever.

        But I did on several occasions see Nguyen/Roach signs on Herrera’s lawn. I don’t think Rose put them there herself.

  2. It takes one to know one, doesn’t it?

    You should trademark and sell t-shirts that say “I got SHIRAKAWIFIED.” It’s “the morally right thing to do”.

  3. This guy is a crook. Period. And he has cloned most of his want to be council members. Chuck is all about giving city money to his pals before he leaves office. His pension ballot measure was a joke, now attacking the pension board members is his latest ploy to screw all employees that have served this city. The SJPD and fire are going under. We are the next Oakland.

    I was you well, I loved my time here but I would vote For Dave and any chance change to council members. Sam. PO, Kam. Pete, the vice mayor are all full of BS.

  4. Two more click throughs on the links in my comment about Laurie Smith that you won’t approve? What’s the deal with that? Careful there, some of us might perceive this unwillingness to approve innocuous comments as fear on your and your candidates part. If nothing else, thanks for the laughs. :)

  5. RE “Liccardo has chosen to give some contributions back, but only those that were solicited on his behalf before he could “officially” ask.” So why would anyone give back contributions that were solicited after they could “officially” ask? It is a campaign isn’t it?

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