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Justices Will Consider Revival of Campaign Fund Limit Measure

TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

The state Supreme Court agreed Thursday to consider reviving a voter-approved 1988 initiative that restricted legislative campaign contributions and for the first time provided public funds to candidates who limited their election spending.

The court two years ago invalidated the initiative, Proposition 68, because it conflicted with Proposition 73, a rival campaign reform measure on the same ballot that won more votes.

But a federal appeals court in February struck down the key provisions of Proposition 73 that restricted contributions. Then backers of Proposition 68 asked the state court to revive their initiative on the grounds that there no longer is a conflict between the two measures.

Thursday’s action came in a brief order signed by all seven justices agreeing to hear the case at an unspecified date. A ruling for reinstatement of Proposition 68 would take effect for the 1994 election campaign, attorneys said.

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Supporters of Proposition 68 hailed the court’s move. “When the voters passed both 68 and 73, they were sending a loud message they wanted campaign reform,” said Ruth Holton, acting director of California Common Cause. “In this current election we are seeing obscene amounts of money pouring into the races because there are now no limits on contributions. . . . California desperately needs a way to control campaign spending.”

Julie M. Randolph, a San Francisco lawyer for opponents of Proposition 68, called on the court to reject reinstatement of the measure. “We’re hopeful the justices will agree the voters decided against public funding of campaigns,” she said.

Proposition 68, backed by California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, set a series of limits on contributions during legislative election campaigns. It would limit contributions to $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the kind of donor. In addition, Assembly candidates who accepted partial public financing would be required to limit their spending to $150,000 in primary elections and $225,000 in general election races. Senate candidates would be limited to $250,000 in primaries and $350,000 in the general election.

The measure barred contributions in non-election years--a major source of money for incumbents. Candidates who voluntarily limited their spending were made eligible for partial public funding, provided by voluntary taxpayer check-offs.

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Proposition 73, sponsored by state Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), imposed restrictions on contributions to all candidates for state and local office. Public financing was barred and there were no limits on campaign spending.

Both measures were attacked in the courts and in November, 1990, the state high court ruled that when voters approve two fundamentally conflicting measures, only the one with the most votes may take effect. Proposition 68, which drew 53% of the vote, must be scuttled in its entirety in favor of Proposition 73, which won 58%, the justices said.

Then in February, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court ruling striking down the contribution limits of Proposition 73.

The appeal court, in a 2-1 decision, concluded that by allowing candidates to collect funds every fiscal year, the measure improperly favored incumbents over challengers. Unlike incumbents, challengers usually do not decide to run until the year before an election and thus could raise only the amount allowed for a single year, the court reasoned. Other provisions of Proposition 73--such as the ban on public financing--were allowed to stand. A month later, a suit was filed with the state high court by Common Cause, Los Angeles attorney Warren C. Christopher and other lawyers, officials and business leaders.

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In a court petition, attorneys for the group contended that with its major provisions struck down, Proposition 73 should be considered invalid in its entirety and Proposition 68 implemented in its place.

The lawyers said, however, that if the court decided the public-financing ban and other remaining provisions of Proposition 73 could still be enforced, it should nonetheless reinstate the contribution limits of Proposition 68.

Lawyers for the California Teachers Assn. and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) urged the high court to refuse to reinstate Proposition 68. The voters, in casting more ballots for 73 than 68, clearly opposed public campaign financing, the attorneys said. Further, they argued, the court should not try to “pick and choose” among provisions of the two measures in an effort to fashion its version of a campaign reform measure.


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