An independent-expenditure group backed by California Native American tribes filed a letter with the Federal Election Commission this week announcing its intent to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money supporting candidates in California congressional races.
The group, known as Californians for Fiscally Responsible Leadership, was apparently the first committee in the country to announce its intent to take advantage of FEC rulings last week that effectively lifted fundraising restrictions on soft-money political committees that declare themselves independent from candidates or political parties, if only ostensibly.
The committee has reported raising a little more than $50,000 since early June – about $25,000 each from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and Chukchansi Development Authority, both of which represent prominent California-gambling interests.
More than $12,000 of that went into radio buys supporting the Congressional campaign of state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, in the waning days of the June primary. Even more – about $35,000 – was spent on radio ads bashing Denham's opponent, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, who went on to lose the primary by 6 points.
The FEC's ruling is among the first concrete indications that the campaign finance landscape is changing after January's landmark Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United. A less-noticed appeals court ruling in March also laid the groundwork for the FEC decisions.
Not surprisingly, not everyone is pleased. The New York Times editorial board took a shot at the new campaign finance landscape Tuesday in an editorial called "Let the Spending Begin."
The group's letter from Californians for Fiscally Responsible Leadership to the FEC is here.