It appears increasingly likely that California Governor Gavin Newsom will face a recall election, leading to questions about how to support or oppose his removal. The “recall” will actually consist of two ballots, voted at the same election—a vote on whether to recall Newsom and a vote for his replacement if the recall passes. Potential contributors may be surprised to learn that the state’s contribution limits apply differently to groups supporting or opposing the recall vote than to candidates seeking to replace Newsom.
Groups that are supporting or opposing the recall vote—that is, groups that are organized around whether to vote “Yes” or “No” on whether to recall Gov. Newsom—are not subject to any contribution limits. Gov. Newsom himself is allowed to control such a committee, and he has already set one up into which he can raise unlimited contributions to defeat the recall; recall supporters have done the same.
Candidates running to replace the governor, however, are subject to contribution limits. Those candidates will be subject to standard California limits for gubernatorial candidates, which were recently raised to $32,400 per election from an individual, business entity, or committee/PAC. Thus, replacement candidates will be subject to limits, while Gov. Newsom can raise unlimited amounts from supporters to keep his current office.
The California Fair Political Practice Commission (“FPPC”) has published additional information on how the campaign finance laws apply to recall elections here.
Note that California has some of the country’s most complex campaign finance laws. The amount and permissibility of contributions in the state may be affected by factors other than the limits above, including contributions by individuals and entities affiliated with the contributor; the contributor’s lobbying activity; and the contributor’s state or local contracting and permitting activity. Additionally, the federal prohibition on contributions from foreign nationals applies to state races as well. California also has a variety of disclosure requirements for contributors and lobbyists that should be reviewed and considered before making a contribution, including required disclosure of large pre-election contributions and periodic disclosure by “Major Donors,” among others.