Even though Loni Hancock's Clean Money bill, allowing for a pilot program to attempt public financing for state elections, was turned into a two-year bill, meaning it won't be eligible for passage until 2008, I was under the impression that campaign finance reform was making some progress in the state legislature. And while this shocker legislation is more about the state exerting control on local municipalities more than anything else, it certainly puts a damper on public financing efforts, as it would virtually eliminate any local limits on contributions.
Legislation that opponents said would eviscerate local governments' ability to limit the size of campaign contributions was approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee.
The bill, backed by a powerful coalition that includes the Democratic and Republican parties, labor unions and the National Rifle Association, cleared the Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee on a 3-0 vote.
Special interests and the state parties want to dictate what they can spend on campaigns at the local level, and they want to disallow any reasonable attempts by the local governments to limit their influence. This is really a blow against federalism in the context of the state vs. the local governments, and I find it distasteful. If Santa Monica wants to experiment with Clean Money, or limit campaign contributions, why should the state disallow it? Assemblyman Martin Garrick, the Republican sponsor of the legislation, is using truly devious logic to push this forward:
Garrick said the measure was merely an attempt to clarify current law and avoid a "patchwork of laws" preventing political parties and other statewide organizations from communicating with their members about which candidates the groups support and oppose.
"What I am assuring is that members of a membership organization like the California Teachers Association or the League of Conservation Voters can afford to freely communicate . . . with their members," he said.
But Ned Wigglesworth, a lobbyist for California Common Cause, said the bill would open up an "enormous loophole" by preventing cities and counties from capping campaign donations that are arranged by candidates and used to pay for mailers sent by political parties to their members.
"It's about local control over local elections," he said. "Without such safeguards, local contribution limits would be rendered worthless."
This would be devastating. It may even allow organizations to avoid reporting requirements. What the hell are we doing here?
Ron Calderon, Mod Squad member in good standing, chaired the committee that passed the bill. Your state senator ought to hear from you on this one. It would be a major step backward in the goal to remove the influence of big money in state politics.