Migden sues the FPPC - Page 2

Trailing in the polls, embattled state senator Carole Migden takes regulators to federal court to save nearly $1 million in campaign funds

How long has she been in the Legislature?"

Migden told us by phone that at the end of 2006, after she was fined nearly $100,000 for other violations by the FPPC, she initiated a "top-to-bottom audit" of her finances. During the audit, she said, "We discovered that we had problems that exceeded the [abilities] of volunteer staff, so we brought in experts." Migden herself is now listed as the treasurer of her reelection campaign committee as well as her legal defense fund. But these staffing changes, she said, came after the assembly money had been transferred.

Whether or not the faulty funds transfer was caused by an innocent mistake, Migden is taking huge political as well as legal risks by challenging state law in federal court. Her lawsuit cites a controversial 1976 Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, which holds that the First Amendment's right to free speech protects political campaign expenditures. That decision has been used by many — mostly conservative — opponents of campaign finance reform. In other words, Migden, a liberal lawmaker in one of the most liberal districts in the state, finds herself arguing from a conservative viewpoint against a key campaign finance law. Moreover, Migden publicly supported a 2000 ballot initiative, Proposition 34, which reaffirmed the surplus funds statute — the very law she now says is unconstitutional.

Reached by phone, her opponent Leno pounced on Migden's apparent flip-flop on the law she is now challenging. "She never suggested that the [surplus funds] law was unconstitutional prior to breaking it. I wasn't aware that as citizens or lawmakers, we got to pick and choose which laws we follow."

Migden would not address the matter of Proposition 34 with us. "The funds ought to be available to communicate with voters," she argued. "It's a constitutional protection ... whatever we did was lawful, we believe, and therefore we're asking for a court decision."

For Stern, Migden's gambit shows that she has nothing left to lose anymore. "It's obvious that she needs this money desperately because [the lawsuit is] not good press.... She's probably not going to win [in court], but there's so much at stake, I can understand why she's doing it."

Also from this author

  • Back to Oakland?

    In what could be his first move toward the mayor's seat, Don Perata's political machine is working overtime to elect one of its own to Oakland's City Council

  • A house divided

    SEIU's internal battles could divert critical resources from the fall election

  • The SEIU strikes back

    A conflicted committee nixes an election complaint as tensions grow at SF's big union local