A Deukmejian Administration agency Monday refused to overturn a decision by the Fair Political Practices Commission that enables candidates to carry over and potentially spend millions of dollars on future elections despite restrictions created by voter-approved Proposition 73.
The state Office of Administrative Law, a relatively obscure agency in the Sacramento bureaucracy, ruled that the commission did not overstep its bounds when it issued regulations Sept. 8 to implement the political reform ballot initiative.
Linda Stockdale Brewer, director of the Administrative Law Office, said the commission "acted responsibly in attempting to come up with a workable solution to the conflict . . . while still carrying out the voters' actions."
Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), a co-author of the measure approved overwhelmingly June 7 and who opposed the commission's action, said he will appeal the ruling to Gov. George Deukmejian, who is empowered to overturn it.
Johnson expressed "disappointment" at the ruling and said he is contemplating pursuing the issue further in court.
Deukmejian, who opposed Proposition 73, has stockpiled at least $1.3 million and has talked of seeking a third term in 1990. Other politically ambitious officeholders are also sitting on comfortable treasuries, including potential Democratic gubernatorial contenders Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, $1.5 million, and state Controller Gray Davis, $1.2 million.
Those who have raised funds in anticipation of the April mayoral election in Los Angeles include incumbent Tom Bradley and expected challenger Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
The ballot proposition, which received more votes than a competing reform proposal, established for the first time in California a limit on campaign contributions to candidates and prohibited the transfer of political funds between candidates.
Effective next Jan. 1, the measure also forbids any candidate with funds on hand from spending them to support or oppose anyone for office. Such funds can be used for any "lawful purpose" or can be returned to donors or spent on ballot propositions.
Under the initiative, a candidate could receive only $1,000 from an individual or business donor in each fiscal year, $2,500 from political action committees of two or more members and $5,000 from so-called broad-based political action committees of at least 100 members.
The Fair Political Practices Commission adopted emergency regulations that would allow candidates to spend funds already raised, provided that the sums contributed fall within the limitations of Proposition 73.
Johnson has insisted that action of the state's political watchdog organization flew in the face of the initiative's requirements. He contends that the measure was intended to remove the built-in fund-raising advantage of incumbents over challengers and to create a "level playing field" at the start of a campaign.
Johnson and Common Cause, a citizens political advocacy organization, appealed the commission's action to the Office of Administrative Law, which reviews regulations adopted by other state government entities to assure, among other things, that the rules are consistent with statutory law, case law and the Constitution.
An appeal of an Administrative Law Office action must be filed within 10 days. The governor then has 15 days in which to overturn the office's decision.
Those challenging a governmental decision must exhaust administrative remedies before filing a legal action in court.
However, Johnson has said he is hesitant to sue the Fair Political Practices Commission at a time when it has yet to rule on other features of Proposition 73 and because a suit would likely drag on for years and could further inhibit full implemention of the reform.
The commission acted after its staff and independent lawyers representing candidates warned that, as adopted by the voters, Proposition 73 was unconstitutionally broad. The staff noted that candidates contemplating running for office needed clear ground rules on which to wage their campaigns.
Common Cause argued that in adopting the regulation, the commission overstepped its authority and acted as if it were a court or a legislative body.