Remember that county party money-shuffling game we told you about earlier this year? It's that time again.
On Monday, Democratic central committees in Kern and Del Norte took in $25,000 each from the SEIU Local 1000, the organization best known for representing more than 90,000 state workers. The central committee in Sacramento County got another $25,000 from the state political committee representing state attorneys, administrative law judges and hearing officers.
The same day, those three committees gave a combined $50,000 to Assembly candidate Richard Pan and another $15,000 to Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan. Buchanan also received $20,000 from Mendocino County.
Democrats in tight races, such as Pan, Buchanan and Alyson Huber, have reported receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from county parties in recent weeks, as the Democrats have geared up their money-moving apparatus in the weeks before the election.
Buchanan and Huber each won tight elections in 2008, when they also benefited from an eleventh-hour infusion of party cash. But this year, declining Republican registration in newcomer Pan's suburban Sacramento district have also made his election a priority for Democrats.
Since Oct. 1, the state party has contributed more than $400,000 to Pan's campaign, and local committees – specifically Del Norte, Mendocino, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Yolo –chipped in another $86,000, in addition to Monday's contributions. Those donations have helped Pan raise as much this month as he has all year.
Pan's opponent, Republican Andy Pugno, has received at least $195,000 from the state Republicans this month, as the party fights to hold on to the seat. Pugno, like his Republican colleagues who are also locked in tight races, has drawn much of his support from the state party rather than counties, highlighting an interesting difference in party strategy.
To be clear, there is nothing illegal about county parties giving candidates large sums of money. That is, unless the giving is coordinated with donors, who sometimes seek to route money through county parties in order to avoid contribution limits – a phenomenon that is often impossible to prove. For that reason and others, county parties have become useful conduits in the last-minute rush to route campaign money into heated races.
The committees involved in routing money to the Democrats were active in previous election cycles, which stands to reason. From what we've been told, certain central committees work to earn credibility among party officials and big institutional donors. So at crunch time, they can be trusted to take in big checks and send the money to the right candidates, no formal coordination necessary.
Very rarely do candidates or committees get dinged for coordination. San Diego Assemblyman Joel Anderson is the classic example, but his case was an exception to the norm.
But even if no coordination takes place, county parties also serve to mask the true source of tens of thousands of dollars given to candidates. If, for example, a union gives money to a county party, which then turns around and gives it to a candidate, the candidate's disclosure reports will show the money coming from the party, not the union – useful if the donor carries a stigma the candidate would rather not be associated with.