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Legislators Cash In on Their Clout : ‘Juice’ Committees Are Magnets for Big Money

Times Staff Writer

San Fernando Valley-area state legislators have received much of their campaign contributions from special interests whose legislative concerns they directly oversee and, in some instances, champion in Sacramento, a Los Angeles Times study has found.

Giving has tended to correspond to legislative committee assignments. For example, the insurance industry contributed heavily to lawmakers sitting on the Senate Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee and the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee, and attorneys donated most to members of each house’s Judiciary Committee.

Moreover, only a fraction of lawmakers’ campaign funds have come from within their respective districts. No lawmaker received more than 37% of his campaign funds from constituents, and one received only 3% of his contributions from those he was elected to represent.

These are among the findings of a computer-aided review by The Times of every campaign contribution to Valley-area lawmakers between Jan. 1, 1987, and June 30, 1988, three quarters of the current 2-year legislative cycle.

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The study documents fund-raising realities that are well-known to political insiders, according to legislative observers such as Walter Zelman, the West Coast director of Common Cause, a public interest group.

Record Fund Raising

In recent months, a political corruption investigation and the public’s support for reform have cast a spotlight on skyrocketing legislative fund raising, which is expected to set a record this year.

In June, California voters passed two initiatives to limit the amount of money that candidates can accept from special interests. The measures will take effect Jan. 1.

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In August, the FBI disclosed that it had conducted a 3-year sting operation aimed at uncovering political extortion and bribery, including links between campaign fund raising and legislation. No Valley-area lawmaker has been implicated in the probe, however.

The Times examination found that the insurance industry, financial institutions, doctors, lawyers, land developers, builders and real estate firms--all interests with substantial economic stakes in state government--were consistently large donors and accounted for half of some lawmakers’ total receipts.

They were particularly generous with those who exercise the most power over legislation that affects them. Hence, state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), chairman of the Senate Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee, received $90,600, or 18% of his $504,058 total, from the insurance industry--even though he stopped accepting contributions from auto insurance firms this year.

“I didn’t design the system,” said Robbins, who is considered one of the Legislature’s most aggressive fund-raisers. “I live within it.”

Donors Target Democrats

In general, Senate and Assembly Democrats, who control the flow of most legislation in both houses, raised much more money than their Republican counterparts, although both parties drew on similar sources. Ideology appears to be less important than incumbency and legislative clout when it comes to loosening the special-interest purse strings.

The two top Valley fund-raisers are both chief lieutenants of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and hold leadership posts. Assemblyman Tom Bane (D-Tarzana) reported raising $1,083,963 and Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) $535,486. Bane received the most special-interest money and Katz received the lowest proportion of funds from within his district.

Legislators contacted for this story said neither their vote nor their legislative actions have been influenced by a contribution. Several also maintained that they don’t give major donors special access--the rationale contributors often cite for giving.

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But, “there’s no denying that people who help you get elected, whether it’s through money or personal help, are going to get more attention from a legislator than someone you’ve never heard from before or someone who supports your opponent,” state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) said. “That’s common sense.”

Common Cause’s Zelman said the typical California legislator sits on four or five committees and casts 100 votes a week. Unable to meet with everyone who wants to plead his case, most lawmakers give big contributors priority when it comes to crucial last-minute lobbying, Zelman said.

“In politics, access is power,” he added. “If all your money gets you is the opportunity to persuade that the other guy doesn’t get, that’s a huge advantage.”

Two of the Valley’s most successful fund-raisers have, on occasion, drawn criticism from political observers and participants for the way they or their representatives solicit campaign dollars.

Bane, who chairs the Assembly Rules Committee, said he leaves his fund raising to his wife, Marlene, who is also a major fund-raiser for Brown. Prospective givers have complained that they were badgered by Marlene Bane and her solicitors.

“She gives ‘hard sell’ a new definition,” said one lawmaker, who requested anonymity.

Doris (Dodo) Meyer, longtime deputy in Van Nuys to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, said: “It’s very hard to say no to Marlene or her operation. Sometimes you get five calls from five different people, even if you’ve been put down as a no.”

‘No Hard Sell’

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Marlene Bane said she does not “threaten or strong-arm,” although she portrays herself as “a very, very difficult taskmaster.” Her husband said last week, “When she raises money for me, there’s no hard sell.”

Robbins said he does not solicit contributions personally, which is considered the most effective fund-raising technique. Rather, he said, supporters on his campaign committees sell tickets for his high-priced events, which include ocean cruises and dinner-theater parties. He said contributions have no impact on his legislative activity.

These assertions contradict Sacramento observers’ perception of Robbins, Zelman said.

“Robbins has the reputation of being an incredibly effective fund-raiser who’s not reluctant to ask and not reluctant to pressure and some would go farther and say, not reluctant to respond,” Zelman said.

Moreover, a colleague said he has seen copies of a brochure for a luxury ocean cruise sponsored by Robbins’ campaign committee prominently displayed on Robbins’ Senate office desk in Sacramento. Robbins denied this.

“The invitations for cruises are all individually sent and they get mailed from the San Fernando Valley,” he said. “I might have had, at any given time, one there for my own use for my calendar.”

Overall, the nine Valley-area lawmakers, five Democrats and four Republicans, received 5,996 contributions totaling $3,744,955, an average of $416,106 for each legislator.

Any evidence of the small donor was washed away in a flood of corporate and political action committee money. Robbins, state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) each reported that less than 1% of their contributions came in amounts lower than $100. Davis had the highest proportion of such small contributions: 7%.

The average contribution to the nine lawmakers ranged from $423 for Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana) to $1,107 for Robbins, reflecting his annual big-ticket fund-raising events.

Seven of the lawmakers are up for reelection Nov. 8 but none face a serious challenge. This is largely due to their well-stocked campaign coffers as well as districts drawn to give their respective parties safe seats.

Challengers Raise Less

In fact, the seven current challengers combined are likely to raise less money than Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge) took in between January, 1987, and June, 1988. And her $199,938 total was the lowest among the seven incumbents up for reelection.

Bane, who ran a national savings and loan trade association for a decade and champions much S&L-sponsored; legislation, raised more money from that industry in 18 months than the combined spending of his last four election opponents. The savings and loan industry gave him $102,480, several times more than any other Valley lawmaker. Bane’s 1978, 1982, 1984 and 1986 opponents in the 40th District reported spending a total of $59,416.

The two lawmakers not up for election this year are Hart and Robbins. Hart, however, is running for Congress and is expected to raise $1 million in that campaign (which was not included in The Times survey). Hart had raised $143,485 before embarking on his congressional campaign.

Robbins has said he will seek a Los Angeles County supervisor’s seat if one is vacated or a new one created. Although his Senate term does not end until 1990, Robbins still raised the Valley’s third-highest total.

Legislators said they accrue such sums primarily to discourage a potentially strong opponent or the opposing political party from targeting their district for a well-financed challenge. Davis, for instance, garnered much of his $445,140 during 1987 when Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) was considering a primary bid against him. Wright, who had raised $251,637, decided not to run, in part because he had upped the financial ante.

Others raise large sums with the intention of giving tens of thousands of dollars to members of their respective parties who are in hotly contested races. Bane and Katz are particularly active in channeling funds to Democrats backed by Speaker Brown.

Money Spent Quickly

Despite a lack of viable opposition, the incumbents reported spending the campaign dollars almost as quickly as they raised them--a total of $3,164,484 during the year and a half surveyed, or an average of $351,609.

They spent much of it on fund-raising costs, year-round campaign offices, campaign staff members’ salaries, their own travel expenses, meals with staff members and supporters, and donations to charities and community groups. This past year, some gave large contributions to other candidates.

One key to Sacramento’s fund-raising kingdom is policy committee assignments. The most coveted are known as “juice committees” because members can squeeze generous campaign contributions from well-heeled groups with enormous stakes in the legislative process. Committees, which consider bills in their policy area, can amend them or quietly kill measures before they ever reach the floor of either house.

The Assembly’s Finance and Insurance Committee and its Senate counterparts, the Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee and Banking and Commerce Committee, are among the most desirable assignments for this reason. Six Valley-area legislators are members of these panels and receive the contributions to reflect it.

Robbins, who chairs the Insurance Committee and sits on the Banking and Commerce Committee, received $209,300 from financial institutions, or 41.5% of his total. These institutions include insurance companies, banks, savings and loans, investment firms, accountants and foreign trade companies. Robbins also sponsors many bills dealing with insurance and finance.

Robbins receives a higher percentage of contributions from financial institutions than any other Valley lawmaker. The figure would be even higher if he had not stopped taking contributions from auto insurance firms and trial lawyers this year. He said he did this as the debate over insurance reform heated up so that his independence would be beyond reproach.

Davis, also a member of these two Senate “juice” committees, received $110,995, or 25% of his total, from financial institutions. The majority, $78,713, came from the insurance industry, whose high-stakes ballot propositions Davis has endorsed in insurance industry television commercials and mailings. He said his longtime support of tort reform made the insurance industry a natural ally.

In the Assembly, Bane, Katz, Wright and La Follette all sit on the Finance and Insurance Committee. Bane received $383,943 (35% of his total) from financial institutions; Katz, $102,194 (19%); Wright, $63,711 (25%), and La Follette, $56,067 (28%).

McClintock is not on the Finance and Insurance Committee but his membership on the Ways and Means Committee is considered as valuable because it handles all bills dealing with state spending. McClintock received $67,011, or 21.5% of his $311,192 total, from financial institutions.

In contrast, Democrats Hart and Friedman, who do not have comparable committee assignments, did not do as well in this area. Hart received $19,950, or 14% of his total, from financial institutions, and Friedman, $20,775, or 8%.

Meanwhile, Hart, the Senate Education Committee chairman, was the only Valley-area lawmaker to receive a substantial percentage of his funds from educational institutions. Wright, who is Utilities and Commerce Committee vice chairwoman, was the only one to receive significant contributions from utilities.

Friedman, an attorney and Assembly Judiciary Committee member, received the highest percentage of his funds from a single profession: Nearly a third of his total of $270,056 came from lawyers. He said many of these contributors were attorneys with whom he had worked before he was elected. Friedman had been executive director of Bet Tzedek, which provides legal services for low-income elderly. He called his seat on the Judiciary Committee a secondary factor.

The low percentages for contributions from within the districts--which were determined based on the contributors’ addresses--are generally consistent with statewide studies that have found that it’s not uncommon for lawmakers generally to raise as little as 10% of their funds from within their districts. The actual level of home-district participation may be slightly higher, however, because some local trade groups, such as real estate agents, may recommend that their professions’ statewide PACs give to their representative.

Robbins said his constituency extends beyond his 20th District boundaries to include all of those who live or work in the San Fernando Valley, parts of which are in several other Senate districts. He said that more than 35% of his contributions came from Valley residents and employees.

To some extent, the numbers may reflect the districts’ relative affluence. Friedman, whose 43rd District includes wealthy enclaves in the Hollywood Hills and the Westside of Los Angeles, received 37% from his constituents; Katz, whose 39th District includes lower-income areas of the northeast Valley, received only 3%.

Katz maintained that his voting record and accessibility to constituents are more important than the sources of his campaign funds. He said he has opposed one of his major donors, the insurance industry, on several critical measures, including the current ballot initiatives. He also noted that the California Public Interest Research Group gave him a 100% rating for his pro-consumer voting record.

“The people who are contributing to me are getting the same thing as the people who are not contributing to me,” Katz said. “That is somebody to listen to both sides of an issue.”

THE STUDY

The Times reviewed 5,997 campaign contributions for nine San Fernando Valley area legislators to examine the lawmakers’ fund-raising patterns during an 18-month period. The records were contained in finance reports legislators filed with the secretary of state in Sacramento.

Every contribution collected between Jan. 1, 1987, and June 30, 1988, for use in a campaign was coded and entered into a Times Poll computer. The data was analyzed geographically and by interest group or occupation through the computer.

CONTRIBUTIONS

Raised between January, 1987, and June, 1988

ASSEMBLY

Tom Bane, 40th Dist. Total: $1,083,963 From Within District: 13% From Outside District: 87% Richard Katz, 36th Total: $535,486 From Within District: 3% From Outside District: 97% Tom McClintock, 36th Total: $311,192 From Within District: 35% From Outside District: 65% Terry B. Friedman, 43rd Total: $270,056 From Within District: 37% From Outside District: 63% Cathie Wright, 37th Total: $251,637 From Within District: 17% From Outside District: 83% Marian W. La Follette, 38th Total: $199,938 From Within District: 18% From Outside District: 82% SENATE

Alan Robbins, 20th Total: $504,058 From Within District: 14% From Outside District: 86% Ed Davis, 9th Total: $445,140 From Within District: 30% From Outside District: 70% Gary K. Hart, 18th Total: $143,485 From Within District: 22% From Outside District: 78% Hart’s 1988 fund raising has been for his congressional campaign, which is not included here.

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times analysis of campaign statements filed with the secretary of state.

SOURCES

Contributed between January, 1987, and June, 1988

Dollar figures are the totals for corporate, political action committee and individual campaign contributions from a particular special interest during the above 18-month period. Figure at right refers to the percentage of lawmaker’s total contributions from special interest listed at left.

* indicates membership on a committee that handles legislation of concern to the contribution interest.

** indicates chairmanship of a committee that handles legislation of concern to the contribution interest.

ASSEMBLY

Tom Bane

40th District

*Financial Institutions $143,010 13% *Banks and Savings & Loans $135,230 12.5% Medical $130,977 12% *Insurance $87,385 8% *Developers and Builders $80,860 7.5% Private Employee Unions $53,250 5% Total of Six Major Sources $630,712 58%

Richard Katz

36th District

Developers and Builders $50,277 9.5% *Financial Institutions $33,050 6% Real Estate $29,270 5.5% *Insurance Industry $29,150 5.5% Medical $23,690 4.5% Public Employee Unions $20,900 4% Total of Six Major Sources $186,337 35%

Tom McClintock

36th District

Insurance Industry $31,550 10% Medical $29,199 9% Developers and Builders $25,105 8% Real Estate $21,653 7% Agribusiness $20,718 7% Attorneys $18,525 6% Banks and Savings & Loans $15,786 5% Total of Six Major Sources $162,536 52%

Note: McClintock is a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, which handles all bills that involve state spending and therefore has authority over a broad range of interests.

Terry B. Friedman

43rd District

*Attorneys $85,479 32% Medical $20,055 7% Real Estate $18,900 7% Entertainment Industry $17,150 6% *Public Employee Unions $13,200 5% Developers and Builders $9,775 4% Total of Six Major Sources $164,559 61%

Cathie Wright

37th District

Developers & Builders $36,985 15% *Insurance Industry $29,224 11.5% *Banks and Savings & Loans $23,837 9.5% Medical $17,461 7% *Utilities $12,437 5% Real Estate $11,305 4% Total Six Major Sources: $131,249 52%

Marian W. La Follette

38th District

*Insurance Industry $29,881 15% *Developers and Builders $14,213 7% Medical $14,411 7% *Banks and Savings & Loans $12,694 6.5% Real Estate $11,601 6% *Financial Institutions $8,914 4.5% Total for Six Major Sources $91,714 46%

SENATE

Alan Robbins

20th District

**Insurance $90,600 18% *Banks and Savings & Loans $58,000 11.5% Medical $47,880 9.5% *Financial Institutions $46,300 9% Attorneys $21,200 4% **Bail Bonds $20,250 4% Total of Six Major Sources $284,230 56%

Ed Davis

19th District

*Insurance $78,713 18% Medical $35,618 8% *Attorneys $32,798 7% *Real Estate $31,361 7% Agribusiness $22,208 5% Auto Dealers and Repairs $19,750 4% Total of Six Major Sources $220,448 49%

Gary K. Hart

18th District

Medical $17,900 12.5% Insurance $15,100 10.5% **Educational Institutions $13,500 9% Public Employee Unions $12,600 9% Private Employee Unions $12,450 9% Self and Wife $10,000 7% Total of Six Major Sources $81,550 57%

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times analysis of campaign statements filed with the secretary of state.


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