Disqualifying Campaign Contribution Recipients from Voting

The concept that campaign contributions perpetually disqualify the recipient from participating in governmental decisions has been expressly and emphatically rejected by our Supreme Court. In Woodland Hills Residents Assn., Inc. v. City Council (1980) 26 Cal. 3d 938 [164 Cal. Rptr. 255, 609 P.2d 1029], the court rejected a contention that the fair hearing mandate of Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 means that city council members who receive campaign contributions from parties having a financial interest in a matter before a city council are disqualified in perpetuity from considering and voting on a matter affecting a campaign contributor. (26 Cal. 3d at pp. 944-946.) After noting that the Political Reform Act limits the proscription on voting on such matters to a 12-month period after the receipt of a disqualifying amount of contributions, our Supreme Court stated: "To disqualify a city council member from acting on a development proposal because the developer had made a campaign contribution to that member would threaten constitutionally protected political speech and association freedoms. "Governmental restraint on political activity must be strictly scrutinized and justified only by compelling state interest. (Buckley v. Valeo [(1976)] 424 U.S. 1, 25 [96 S. Ct. 637-638, 46 L. Ed. 2d 659, 691].) While disqualifying contribution recipients from voting would not prohibit contributions, it would curtail contributors' constitutional rights. Representative government would be thwarted by depriving certain classes of voters (i.e., developers, builders, engineers, and attorneys who are related in some fashion to developers) of the constitutional right to participate in the electoral process. "Public policy strongly encourages the giving and receiving of campaign contributions. Such contributions do not automatically create an appearance of unfairness. Adequate protection against corruption and bias is afforded through the Political Reform Act and criminal sanctions. (Pen. Code, 165; see also Pen. Code, 67 et seq.)" (Woodland Hills, supra, 26 Cal. 3d at pp. 946-947, fn. omitted.) The text of footnote 9 of Woodland Hills, is particularly instructive: "Plaintiffs' contention might well be self-defeating should they prevail. If a political contribution automatically disqualifies the recipient after his election from considering and acting on matters in which the contributor has an interest, the enterprising developer could disqualify all known environmentalists who are running for municipal office by making nominal contributions to the campaign committees of such persons. Future applications of the developer could then be judged by a panel from which all known environmentalists have been disqualified." (26 Cal. 3d at p. 947, fn. 9.) The same strategy might be employed by any interest group. Thus, a fair hearing is not precluded by the circumstance that an interested party makes campaign contributions to members of the agency which will adjudicate its claim, and does so more than 12 months prior to action by the members of that agency who receive those contributions. Rather, public policy strongly encourages the giving and receiving of campaign contributions. Such actions are constitutionally protected and do not automatically create an appearance of unfairness.