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Exploiting Prop. 73 Loopholes

If this primary election illustrates anything, it’s that money still dominates the political process, despite all the laws attempting to limit the corrupting influence of campaign contributions.

Perhaps you recall that in 1988, California voters approved something called Proposition 73, restricting contributions to $1,000 a donor. It was the latest of many political reform laws that have been enacted, amid high hopes, since the Watergate scandals.

The new law imposed limits on every election in the state, from governor down to city council. This is important to Los Angeles County, where running for one of the five supervisorial seats in huge districts is often more expensive than many U.S. Senate campaigns.

For the most part, supervisorial campaigns are financed by businesses dependent on county regulation, mostly those involved with real estate development. Contributions of $5,000 or $10,000 from a single business were not unusual in the days before Proposition 73. Donations of that size come dangerously close to vote-buying, and Proposition 73 was supposed to eliminate that evil.

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Despite good intentions, all the laws have had weaknesses. Watching the current county supervisorial election, the loopholes in the latest effort become obvious.

For example, hotshot lobbyist Arthur K. Snyder, a former Los Angeles city councilman, threw a fund-raiser for Sarah Flores, who’s running for the 1st District seat of retiring Supervisor Pete Schabarum. The district covers the San Gabriel Valley and southeastern Los Angeles County.

Snyder is a power. His experience, knowledge of intricate government procedures and friendships with well-placed city officials have helped him win approval for big projects. Money also helps--not his, especially, but money he raises.

Because of his clout, fellow lobbyists and developers don’t like to cross him. They fear a vengeful Snyder putting roadblocks in the way of their developments. That adds up to a high acceptance rate when Snyder sends out invitations to fund-raisers.

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It certainly helped the Flores campaign. Flores’ campaign manager, Ron Smith, told me the event brought in $7,000. If Flores wins, Snyder will be remembered in her camp as the man who came up with $7,000 when it was needed. While Proposition 73 limited Snyder to $1,000, he gets credit for seven times as much. That’s quite a loophole.

Another demonstration of how large contributions can be assembled by a single person despite the laws came Wednesday night in an unlikely place--the corporate headquarters of In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, in the industrial heart of the San Gabriel Valley. It was the scene of a $500-a-person fund-raiser for Superior Court Judge Greg O’Brien, probably the best-financed candidate in the 1st District race and Flores’ main rival.

The host, Rich Snyder, president of In-N-Out Burger, provided the meal--the house specialty, naturally, along with salads and desserts. The political punch was provided by Supervisor Schabarum. Both get credit for this one.

Schabarum is supporting O’Brien. Members of the Schabarum political team are working on the O’Brien campaign. Most important, Schabarum is raising money for O’Brien.

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The supervisor is a prodigious political fund-raiser. His fund-raising pool is full of people doing business with the county in one way or another. While reports for the current campaign will not be available until next week, I think it’s safe to assume that he’s soliciting money from that familiar pool.

You might make the same assumption about Flores’ supervisorial supporters, Dana and Antonovich, both of whom are rounding up financial support for her campaign. Their contribution lists also are loaded with names of people dependent on the County Hall of Administration.

The temptation for candidates to push hard for contributions is tremendous. The best way to communicate with voters is through mailed advertising. And that’s expensive.

Ron Smith, Flores’ campaign manager, said it costs $100,000 for a single mailing. O’Brien has already sent out two. Former Rep. Jim Lloyd, the third strong candidate, is in danger of being left behind because he can’t match O’Brien and Flores in fund-raising.

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I know many of the contributors simply think O’Brien, Flores or another candidate is best for the job. That’s why they give. I talked to several such people at the O’Brien fund-raiser. But the rest, unfortunately, have been drawn into it by the high-pressure political strong-arm tactics that have been left untouched by political reform laws.


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