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A Couple of Freshmen Outclass the Seniors : Two new state legislators seek savvy limits on fund raising

How can California’s legislators be made to serve the interests of voters who have nothing to spend but a vote? In 1988 Californians approved two propositions, Proposition 73 and Proposition 68, that sought to assure this outcome. Both were approved, Proposition 73 by the larger margin. But key provisions of Proposition 73 were later invalidated in court, leaving neither law on the books and intact. On Monday the California Supreme Court ruled that this state of affairs must continue: Because a part of Proposition 73 remains in effect, Proposition 68 may not be revived.

Meanwhile, though there might be some voters who say “They’re all crooks” to excuse themselves from the difficult duties of citizenship, most voters clearly wish they could believe their government was not for sale.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Dec. 25, 1993 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 25, 1993 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 4 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Jan Goldsmith--An editorial on campaign reform legislation in Wednesday’s editions erroneously referred to Assemblyman Jan Goldsmith (R-Poway) as a woman.

Unfortunately, the appalling picture of vote-buying that emerged in the trial and conviction of Sacramento lobbyist Clayton R. Jackson threatens to make cynicism the only realism, and every failed attempt at reform only makes things worse.

What can be done? The next move, a surprisingly strong one, is being made by two in the first class of legislators elected under California’s new term limits law. Assemblywomen Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) and Jan Goldsmith (R-Poway) have introduced campaign reform legislation (AB 1993) that is astutely positioned both legally and politically. Their bill does not impose any spending cap on candidates (avoiding a legal complication) and does not provide for any public financing of campaigns (a political complication).

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What remains, however, is more than enough to vastly reduce the role of money in California public life:

* A cap on individual contributions.

* Aggregate limits on the amount that any one contributor--not just a political action committee (PAC) but even a political party--can give to all candidates combined.

* A ban on transfers of funds between candidates, PACs, parties and money-laundering independent committees.

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* A ban on off-year fund raising.

* A ban on cash contributions and a strict requirement for the disclosure of contributions.

Bowen and Goldsmith may be freshmen, but their bipartisan bill would do a graduating senior proud for its electioneering savvy: no cash because cash leaves no paper trail; no off-year fund raising because at a certain point one must stop seeking the job and start doing it; aggregate limits on contributions to parties and PACs because such limits prevent big-time contributors from bankrolling legislative kingmakers who then buy and sell their own colleagues.

Approval for AB 1993 will be an uphill battle. To put it mildly, the old kids on the block do not enjoy having this kind of move put on them by the new kids on the block. But the block itself needs this kind of change in the worst way.

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Lobbyist Scott Keene has proposed a lobbyist’s pledge against political contributions of any kind. A fine idea, no doubt, but without much muscle behind it.

What Bowen and Goldsmith propose has a good deal of muscle in it. It comes before the Assembly Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee on Jan. 10, and we commend it equally to the Assembly members and to the voters.


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