Political Notebook

Should political parties pay for the cost of running committee elections?

Fresno and some other California counties explored the idea of charging Republican and Democratic Party central committees for their share of the June 2016 election costs. It now appears all have rejected the idea.
Fresno and some other California counties explored the idea of charging Republican and Democratic Party central committees for their share of the June 2016 election costs. It now appears all have rejected the idea.

Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth managed to accomplish something few others have in recent years – join Democrats and Republicans together for a common purpose.

In this case, it was the possibility that the two major political parties cover the cost of their June 2016 central committee elections. Orth hinted it was a possibility in a letter last month to the respective parties.

She has since decided against it.

“I just don’t think there’s any legal basis to charge them,” Orth said. “They’ve never paid for their elections in the past.”

Up until now, members of political parties around the state have vied for central committee seats on primary election ballots alongside candidates for president, mayor, city councils and other seats. This coming June was to be no exception.

Then some counties considered the possibility of charging the parties for the cost of holding the central committee part of the election.

Not surprisingly, both parties thought the idea was terrible.

“Democrats and Republicans were in agreement on this issue,” said Fresno County Republican Party Chair Fred Vanderhoof. “We were, of course, against it. We were concerned about having to pay a very large amount of money.”

Doug Kessler, a Selma resident and a regional chair for the California Democratic Party, estimated the cost would have been between $200,000 and $300,000 each for the Republicans and the Democrats. (Those numbers aren’t from Orth. She never provided a cost estimate.)

“Combined we don’t have that much money to pay for something the law says we’re entitled to,” Kessler said.

The idea of charging the political parties appears to surround whether or not their respective central committees are private associations. Some recent court cases seem to indicate they are. If so, some critics contended that taxpayer money should not be spent on elections for private associations.

That prompted some California counties to explore the possibility of charging Republicans and Democrats for central committee elections. It now appears all have backed off the idea.

Charles Bell, general counsel for the California Republican Party, and Thomas Willis, general counsel for the state Democratic Party, sent Napa County a letter threatening legal action if it tried to charge the political parties for the central committee elections.

“Should Napa County cross the Rubicon, in spite of the substantial legal reasons it cannot do so without the Constitution’s and the Legislature’s authorization, it is likely to face costly litigation by the state’s political parties seeking to protect their county central committees’ right of access to the June 2016 ballot,” the letter to Napa County concluded.

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