Senate Approves Bill Requiring Earlier Disclosure for Major Initiative Donors

Times Staff Writer

The Legislature's increasing--but mostly impotent--hostility toward the enactment of sweeping new laws by the direct ballot initiative surfaced again Wednesday.

This time the Senate approved, in a 29-5 vote, and sent to the Assembly a bill that would require that those who contribute $10,000 or more to qualify a ballot proposition be identified in the official voters pamphlet.

The bill would also require disclosure of any written agreements proponents of the initiative made with contributors in exchange for support.

Earlier Disclosure

Supporters of the bill by Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco) noted that increasingly the campaigns to qualify proposed initiatives are underwritten by major "special interests" who stand to benefit financially or in other ways by passage of the measure.

Identities of contributors and the sums they donated are not publicly reported until after the signatures to qualify the measure are collected.

Kopp and others noted that if a legislator received campaign contributions in exchange for legislation, the lawmaker would be charged with crimes that could send him or her to prison.

The Legislature traditionally has been hostile to the direct initiative procedure, which enables Californians to bypass the lawmakers and put issues directly on the statewide ballot.

In recent years, as the initiative has been employed more and more, the Legislature has sought to impose restraints on the process. Lawmakers maintain that the proposals are poorly drafted, ill-conceived and often difficult to implement.

However, efforts to substantively change the initiative process that reformer Hiram Johnson launched in 1911 have failed.

Earlier Measure

An earlier version of the Kopp plan would have made it illegal to contribute to a campaign to qualify an initiative if the contributor stood to benefit from the proposal's enactment. However, this approach ran afoul of constitutional issues.

Kopp said the next-best option was disclosure to voters before they went to the polls of who the ballot proposition's financial backers are. He said this would enable voters to determine if the contributor stood to benefit.

Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), a supporter of the bill, noted that in a recent election environmentalists fashioned an initiative that would benefit other specific interest groups, provided the groups helped with fund raising or signature gathering.

"Simply because 'good guys' do it doesn't make it right," he said, warning that "bad guys" could adopt the same tactics.

But Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), who voted against the bill, told the Senate that "some people don't like the idea that small groups can get together and pass legislation." He said the bill "puts a chill on the initiative concept."

Kopp noted that two proposals on ballots last year were qualified by a coalition of disparate organizations and that the various groups all got a piece of the action in some form when both passed.

One was Proposition 70, the bond issue for parks and conservation; the other was Proposition 99, which increased tobacco taxes. In the case of the tobacco tax, the measure was supported by major physician and hospital organizations.

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