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So yesterday, I called the San Diego Ethics Commission curious about a little aspect of City Councilman Brian Maienschein’s nascent candidacy for city attorney. Maienschein will obviously attempt to finance much of his effort with what’s left over from his reelection in 2004. He faced no opponent then, so he didn’t have to spend the money.

But the city now has, of course, a new law that restricts candidates from raising money for an election more than 12 months before that election.

So what’s the deal? Does that mean Maienschein can’t transfer his money over to a new committee in charge of his race for city attorney? The U-T reported the other day that Maienschein had more than $250,000 stashed away for some kind of race like this.

Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the Ethics Commission, told me that Maienschein would be allowed to transfer the money.

But get this, it’s kind of interesting. He has to transfer the money over one contributor at a time. And he has to start from either the beginning of his contribution list or the end. In other words, if 1,000 people gave him $250 each, then he has to transfer each over one by one. And each of the people that gave him that $250 in 2004 would be considered to have given him $250 for this election.

If anyone gave him money in 2004 but now support a different candidate for city attorney, they’ll still show up as contributors to this campaign.

It also means that if they wanted to give him more money this time around, they could, but only because candidates for city attorney can collect $320 from each individual contributor — not $250. So, a contributor to his 2004 City Council campaign can give him $70 more.

But let’s get back on track. Doesn’t this violate the city’s law against collecting donations earlier than 12 months before an election? After all, 2004 was definitely more than 12 months ago.

I think.

The 12-month rule has a raison d’etre — it serves to prevent elected officials from raising money the moment they win election.

“(Without the rule) an incumbent would start amassing money immediately after election and discourage opponents from running. And there’s an appearance of corruption when people who have business pending before you are also donating to your committee,” Fulhorst said. The 12 month rule allows incumbents to still raise money while they serve in office, but limits it as much as is reasonable in the city’s eyes.

Is Maienschein violating the rule if he transfers money over that he raised years ago?

Fulhorst said no.

The city can’t restrict how a candidate uses money after it’s collected.

“The courts have ruled that under the First Amendment, you can’t restrict how a candidate spends his or her money. You can restrict contributions but not expenditures,” Fulhorst said.

But the courts didn’t say anything about making it simple for whoever has to do all that paperwork.

SCOTT LEWIS

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