Major Reform in Financing of Campaigns to Be Proposed
The state Fair Political Practices Commission will be urged next week by its chairman, Dan Stanford, to propose major reforms in the financing of legislative campaigns in an effort to clean up what he views as “the unhealthy appearance of influence by special-interest groups.”
Right now, he said in an interview Thursday, “legislative access in the state Capitol is on the auction block to the highest bidder.”
A draft proposal prepared by Stanford’s staff at the watchdog FPPC would, among other things, restrict fund raising during non-election years, impose limits on contributions during election years, limit honorariums for legislators’ outside speeches, and fine lawmakers for voting on bills when they have a personal conflict of interest.
There now are no limits on political contributions to state legislators or their opponents.
Stanford, 35, a Republican San Diego attorney who was appointed FPPC chairman by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1983, expressed confidence that the five-member commission will adopt a reform plan after some “fine tuning” and submit it to the Legislature. But he was less confident that the Legislature will pass it, short of being prodded by a major scandal.
“If the Moriarty case evolves into a major scandal involving current or recent members of the Legislature, it may well force the legislators to clean up their own house,” he said. “Absent pressure, legislators are reluctant to change the rules under which they are elected.”
His reference was to Orange County fireworks manufacturer W. Patrick Moriarty, who earlier this year pleaded guilty to seven counts of mail fraud relating to bribery of public officials and to making illegal campaign contributions. Moriarty is cooperating with law enforcement officials investigating his attempts to influence politicians, including campaign contributions that he funneled through his associates to state legislators. His sentencing is scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court.
“I am also convinced that in 1986 there will be at least one, probably more, initiatives on the ballot concerning campaign reform,” Stanford said. “The existence of those initiatives may well prompt the Legislature to take a serious look at this issue.”
Early last month, a privately organized, bipartisan citizens commission proposed a more sweeping overhaul of legislative campaign financing. But the panel said that because the Legislature is likely to reject the proposal, it probably will have to be taken directly to the voters.
That group, called the Commission on Campaign Financing, recommended limiting campaign contributions and expenditures, completely banning donations during non-election years, prohibiting the transfer of political money from one legislator to another, limiting honorariums for speeches, and partial public financing of legislative races.
Stanford’s proposal calls for:
- Limiting contributions during non-election years to $250.
- Limiting contributions in election years to either $5,000 or $10,000. (Stanford has not yet decided which figure would be preferable.) However, there could be a big loophole in this provision, because legislative political caucuses and state political parties would be exempted from election-year contribution limits.
- Limiting contributions to political action committees, which give to legislative candidates, to $5,000 in non-election years and $20,000 in election years.
- Prohibiting lawmakers from accepting honorariums of more than $250 a year, plus travel expenses, for speeches from any group which employs a lobbyist. This limit also would apply to gifts.
- Fines of up to $2,000 for lawmakers who author bills or vote in committee on measures that would have a direct financial impact on them or their immediate families.
Link to Lobbyists
Stanford said restricting off-year fund raising is important because “in non-election years many legislators are collecting large campaign contributions from the very special-interest groups that are lobbying the Legislature for special favors.”
He added: “These proposals are designed to address the unhealthy appearance of influence by special-interest group campaign contributions.”
A recent FPPC report showed that the 120 members of the Legislature had accumulated nearly $8.4 million during the first half of this year, with the next elections still 18 months away.
Leading all lawmakers in obtaining contributions during the first half of this non-election year were Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who raised $534,080, and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who collected $401,160.
‘Directly Into Pockets’
As for the limit on speech honorariums, Stanford said, “that is money from the same special-interest groups going directly into the legislators’ pockets.”
Last year, members of the Assembly and Senate were paid more than $350,000 for giving speeches to various groups, including many organizations that had legislation pending before the two houses.
Speaker Brown, who received as much as $5,000 per speech, was the most active orator in the lower house, collecting $56,450. Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) led the way in the Senate with $29,150 in speaking fees.
Referring to the present system of money gathering, Stanford said: “All of this demeans the image and the reputation of the Legislature and further erodes public confidence in our system of government.”
Congress Not Affected
Stanford’s proposals, of course, would affect only state legislators and their campaign opponents. Members of Congress are governed by federal law.
By comparison, members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate--and their opponents--are limited to individual contributions of no more than $2,000 in each primary and general election cycle. However, political action committees can contribute up to $10,000 per cycle.
Banks, corporations and labor unions are prohibited from donating to congressional candidates, although these entities often contribute to political action committees, which in turn give to congressmen.
The limit on honorariums for members of Congress is $2,000 per speech plus expenses.