Campaign finance loophole allows more big money in D5 race

An outside campaign on behalf of Sup. Vallie Brown triggers new spending limits -- that wind up helping Brown.

Because of a strange loophole in the city’s campaign finance laws, the spending limits for both Sup. Vallie Brown and her D5 opponent, Dean Preston, just went up from $250,000 to more than $400,000.

That happened because one independent expenditure committee spent $777 supporting Brown.

An outside group is spending money to help Vallie Brown — so now Brown gets to spend more money to help herself.

A Sept. 30 notice from the Ethics Commission showed the cascading increases in the spending limits, which are now at $400,000 for Brown and $450,000 for Preston.

How did that happen? Well, under the city’s public finance law, once an outside expenditure committee spends enough money that, in combination with the candidates spending, it breaks the limit, then the opposing candidate gets to spend an extra $50,000.

But spending an extra $50,000 would put Preston over the limit, so then Brown gets to spend an extra $50,000. And this goes back and forth until both candidates are approaching double the original limits.

The strange element of all of this, which has been in issue in the past, is that the laws are supposed to discourage outside, independent dark money: The idea is that if one candidate has huge deep-pocketed backers, the other candidate should have the right to compete.

But in the end, a big IE expenditure on behalf of, in this case, Brown, also allows her to spend more money.

This also happened in the mayor’s race.

More curious: the same day the Ethics decision came out, Brown filed a notice that she had already spent $272,000 — $22,000 above the cap.

This also happened in the mayor’s race. In February, campaign-finance activist Jon Golinger wrote to the Ethics Commission and asked the members to close that loophole, saying the law

“effectively require[es] the Ethics Commission to raise the Individual Expenditure Ceiling of candidates who are benefiting from outside Independent Expenditure funds. That is the opposite of the intended goal of the public financing system, which is to incentivize candidates for

participating in it rather than encouraging IE spending outside the system.

But the commission took no action.

So with five weeks to go until Election Day, the D5 race is going to get even more heated.