Physicians Again Head the List in Political Donations

Times Staff Writer

The California Medical Assn. contributed $1.3 million to legislative candidates during the 1986 elections to lead all special-interest donor groups for the fifth straight time, Common Cause reported Wednesday.

And the money was a "shrewd investment" because it gives the doctors leverage on legislation affecting the $5-billion-a-year Medi-Cal program, said Walter Zelman, California executive director of Common Cause.

At a Capitol press conference, Zelman said the $1,322,271 represented a 120% increase over the $600,108 that the CMA's political action committee gave to legislative candidates in the 1984 elections.

The No. 2 campaign contributor to legislative candidates was the California Trial Lawyers with $949,637. No. 3 was Insurers Political Action Committee (representing insurance companies) at $654,250. No. 4 was the California Real Estate PAC with $605,357.

Zelman noted the fact that these special-interest groups have a keen interest in legislation affecting such fields as malpractice, liability insurance and rent control.

The rest of the top 10 were the California Teachers Assn., $491,585; Bankers Responsible Government Committee, $398,700; California State Employees Assn., $362,444; Beer Wholesalers Community Affairs Fund, $354,884; Irvine Co. (an Orange County development firm), $322,776, and the California Dental PAC (representing dentists), $318,290.

"Campaign contributions are investments in political outcomes," Zelman said, who noted the ever-increasing cost of California political campaigns. "In terms of economic interests, these contributing groups have tens of millions and sometimes billions of dollars at stake in the legislative process.

"In most cases, even minor legislative victories can produce economic dividends worth many times the amount of money contributed."

Denies 'Investment' Charge

A spokesman for the CMA, Lobbyist Jay D. Michael, denied Zelman's "investment" charge.

"We don't regard making political contributions as an investment," Michael said. "It is the medical community participating in the election process. What we hope is to help elect the best candidates for public office . . . who share the values of physicians concerning what constitutes good health care."

In addition, he again called for campaign finance reform in the wake of the recent mail fraud conviction of former Democratic Assemblyman Bruce Young of Norwalk for failing to report outside income while he was a legislator, followed by news that Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) made $254,000 in outside income last year, including $90,250 in speaking fees.

"Some of them (legislators) are on the take," Zelman said. "There's no question about that. But don't ask me who they are."

Asked for reaction to this charge, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said that if Zelman has names of legislators "on the take" he should offer them to the district attorney for prosecution.

'Smoking Gun'

"It is very hard to find a smoking gun," Zelman said. "The reason you can't find a smoking gun is because the room is so thick with smoke. There is so much smoke all over the place that you can't find one gun. There are too many guns."

As for the increasing use of legislative speaking fees, he said: "In some ways, honoraria are a more valuable investment on the part of the giver than campaign contributions because the money goes directly to the legislator, to the pocket, in effect."

Zelman suggested increasing the present $37,105-a-year legislative salary to an unspecified amount, reducing lawmakers' fringe benefits, and restricting outside income and speaking fees.

A Common Cause campaign reform initiative failed to qualify for last year's ballot due to a lack of signatures. Among other things, that initiative included placing limits on campaign contributions and expenditures, providing partial public financing to candidates who agree to accept expenditure limits, and prohibiting off-year fund raising.

Brown's Bill Also Died

A similar Brown-backed campaign finance reform bill also died on the Assembly inactive file because, according to the Speaker, he could not muster the necessary two-thirds vote required for passage.

Zelman said a new attempt probably will be launched soon to place another initiative on the 1988 ballot.

"We used to believe that there was some outside limit on what special interests could or would give," he said. "Clearly, we were wrong. Apparently, there is no such limit."

Without any limits, Zelman said the old slogan that "California has the best Legislature that money can buy" may turn into "the best Legislature that money did buy" within a few years.

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