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Bill Cuts Reporting Time for Donations

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bill to make politicians report contributions as they receive them cleared the Legislature unanimously and now faces its biggest challenge on the desk of Gov. Gray Davis, the officeholder who would be most affected by it.

Davis, who collects nearly $1 million a month in campaign contributions, would be forced under the measure to disclose all donations of $5,000 or more within 10 business days.

If the governor signs it, SB 34 will replace the current law, which requires officeholders in nonelection years to report contributions every six months.

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The reform bill is “not exactly a heat-seeking missile, but it’s not too far off,” said James Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, a watchdog group. “It’s obvious who this affects.”

State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, insisted the legislation was not aimed at Davis, who is frequently at odds with lawmakers, but was designed to close loopholes created by Proposition 34.

That ballot measure, which set limits on contributions and made other changes in the state’s disclosure laws, was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2000.

“This bill was written to clean up glitches in that proposition,” Burton said. “I told the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and [actor] Warren Beatty that we would fix the . . . thing. That was my deal.”

In a letter to Davis, Common Cause urged him to sign the measure because it would make “several substantive improvements” to Proposition 34.

Among the most important changes, Knox said in an interview, is the requirement for more frequent reporting. He said it is necessary because California laws have not kept pace with the latest trend in politics--year-round fund-raising.

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Davis particularly has carried the trend to new heights, raising millions of dollars each year even though he does not face reelection until November 2002. His latest financial reports show that he has more than $30 million in the bank for the next campaign.

“The problem with current law is that it allows special interests to influence legislative outcomes by making contributions that are undetected,” Knox said.

Burton’s proposal got support from Republicans and Democrats, although Senate GOP leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said his party believes that 10 days is too long to wait for disclosure.

“The more disclosure you get in a timely manner, we think the better,” he said. “We believe you can do it in 48 hours. The technology is there.”

Proposition 34 requires that in the 90 days before an election, all contributions of $1,000 or more be disclosed within 24 hours.

Burton said it was at the request of Davis and others that he agreed to make the disclosure less stringent for all other time periods. He said they argued that it would be hard to report a large number of contributions within 24 hours.

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“If they had a $5,000 [a person] fund-raiser and there were, like, 1,000 people there, it could be difficult to get that all reported in 24 hours,” Burton said.

A spokesman for the governor said Davis is reviewing the legislation and has not decided whether to sign it. Davis’ campaign manager, Garry South, had said that more frequent disclosure is “an idea whose time has probably come.”

Burton’s bill also is being watched closely in Los Angeles, because it would close a loophole that allowed the Democratic and Republican parties to spend thousands of dollars to promote, respectively, mayoral candidates Antonio Villaraigosa and Steve Soboroff without making full disclosure. Both lost their races.

The loophole was created by Proposition 34, which allowed political parties to communicate with their members about candidates or issues. It said these were not independent campaign expenditures and therefore did not have to be disclosed before election day.

The new measure would require that those expenditures be disclosed before an election.

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