Debt Consolidation

Rival Initiatives Cloud Campaign Reform Effort

Posted on: June 11, 2008
Written by: UWSA Staff
IT DID NOT take first-term legislators long to learn the ways of Sacramento. The Class of 1995 dived head first into the morass, raising nearly $5 million in campaign contributions last year and putting a end to any hopes that voter-imposed term limits might diminish the influence of special interests in the state capital.

Voters interested in good government will be asked to try again this November. The next target: campaign finance reform.

It is not too early to focus on two fledgling reform movements. One offers the hope for immediate controls on the shameless bucks-for-power transactions in Sacramento. The other proposal -- though tougher sounding -- raises the specter of a long court fight while legislators and lobbyists continue their freewheeling ways.

The more promising approach, known as the California Political Reform Initiative, has already qualified for the November 5 ballot. It has been endorsed by a broad range of groups, including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

It attempts to curb many of the most common abuses. Individual donations could not exceed $1,000 on statewide races. Candidates could not solicit contributions from lobbyists. And it would stop legislators from building their power bases by transferring contributions to other candidates.

Spending limits would range from $350,000 for Assembly candidates to $14 million for a gubernatorial contender. If those limits sound generous to you, consider that they would have cut 1994 campaign spending in California by about 50 percent.

These are relatively modest reforms, promoters of the initiative acknowledge. But they are a vast improvement over the current climate of legislator-lobbyist coziness. And they would take effect in 1997.

By contrast, the California Public Interest Research Group is circulating petitions for an extremely restrictive initiative that would almost surely result in a legal battle. It would limit contributions to $100 for a legislative campaign or $200 for a statewide race. CalPIRG's Jay Bonasia said the limits are designed to make sure ``an average Joe'' and a high-powered political action committee play by the same rules. There are two problems with that measure, known as the Anti-Corruption Act of 1996. One, it has a big loophole: it allows ``citizen committees'' of up to 100 people to donate up to $25 per person each election. Some special-interest groups, like labor unions, could easily arrange committees to defeat the initiative's intent.

More ominously, the expected court fight over the draconian limits on contributions could delay for years any meaningful campaign finance reform. The initiative seemingly defies a series of court rulings on contribution limits. Ruth Holton, executive director of California Common Cause, said she has never seen ``the public climate so ripe'' for campaign finance reform. ``It would be a shame to lose the opportunity,'' she says.

Sacramento needs restraints now. We urge voters to think twice before signing petitions for a second ballot measure that would cloud the prospects for campaign finance reform.

Saturday, April 13, 1996 - San Francisco Chronicle