IEs crank up for 2012 election cycle

Scores of committees that pour money into California’s political campaigns independently of the candidates or ballot measures have raised some $10.5 million since the beginning of the year.

Under state campaign rules, the so-called independent expenditure committees, or IEs, can raise and spend virtually unlimited amounts for or against candidates or ballot measures, but are barred from coordinating the transactions with the campaigns.

Unlike limits on individual campaign contributions – donors to gubernatorial candidates, for example, are limited to $26,000 per donation – the IEs are largely unfettered.

Until recently, the IEs’ fundraising and spending was posted prominently on the website of the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s campaign finance enforcer. However, new IE spending is no longer posted; the most recent was in June 2010.

More recent disclosure is available at the secretary of state’s office, which carries the IE’s fundraising and spending reports for the most recent full reporting period, from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2011. Those reports were required to be filed by the end of July.

Among the most well-financed IEs was the real estate industry’s committee, which raised $1.68 million,  the backers of charter schools with $1.27 million and the pharmaceutical manufacturers with nearly $1.2 million.

Law enforcement groups were active as well. The professional peace officers in Los Angeles reported raising $556,000, the prison officers reported $260,000 and the Orange County deputy sheriffs raised $340,000. The group representing the state’s certified public accountants raised about $485,000.

EdVoice, a significant political group that seeks reforms in public education, raised $589,000. The California Teachers Association, meanwhile, raised about $154,000.

With few exceptions, the IEs spent relatively little, clearly building war chests for next year’s elections, and what was spent went primarily to political staffs. The California Medical Association, which raised some $431,000, spent about $110,000, most of it to the state Democratic Party. The California Chamber of Commerce’s JobsPAC, which raised about $468,000, spent about $124,000.

The figures for both fund-raising and spending are all but certain to increase dramatically as the election cycle gathers momentum. Typically, the IEs weigh in during the final weeks or days of the campaign.

During 2010, just weeks before the election, IEs had spent an estimated $27 million, with four out of five dollars spent on behalf of candidate Jerry Brown. Rival Meg Whitman, who was almost entirely self-funded, had some $2.1 million spent on her behalf by the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, while IE’s spent about $3 million against her.

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