SACRAMENTO — A ballot initiative drive to drastically revise the way legislative campaigns are financed was launched Wednesday in an attempt to prod the Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian into making major improvements in the existing system.
The proposed initiative borrowed heavily from recommendations made by a privately financed bipartisan group, the California Commission on Campaign Financing, whose recent study concluded that "fund-raising fever is distorting many aspects of California's political process."
Recommendations in the proposed initiative include limiting campaign contributions and expenditures, prohibiting contributions during non-election years, banning the transfer of political funds from one legislator to another and partial public financing of legislative campaigns.
The commission's recommendations also were written into proposed legislation unveiled Monday by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and other key Democratic lawmakers.
The Legislature approved a campaign financing package in 1984, but Deukmejian vetoed it because he objected to including partial public financing.
The proposed initiative has been filed with the attorney general's office, which will give the proposal a title and summarize its contents so that it can be placed on petitions. Backers will have to collect 393,835 signatures of registered voters in the coming months to qualify for the November general election ballot.
Walter B. Gerken, a member of the campaign financing commission and chairman of the board of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Newport Beach, is the principal proponent of the ballot measure. A dozen other commission members are listed as co-sponsors. It also is supported by California Common Cause, a citizens' activist group headed by Walter Zelman.
"If the Legislature passes a reasonable proposal, and the governor signs it prior to the time that we have to turn in our signatures, we would be delighted," Zelman said, "because then there would be no reason to put it on the ballot.
"But no one is optimistic that will happen," he said. "We have no evidence to date that the Legislature will pass and the governor will sign a comprehensive campaign finance reform package.
"We will do everything we can to try to make that happen, but we want to be ready with an alternative to place before the voters."
He estimated it would cost at least $300,000 to gather the necessary signatures to qualify the ballot initiative.
Gerken said the initiative was designed to "end the escalating arms race in campaign spending, reduce the dependence candidates have on large contributions from special-interest contributors and strengthen public confidence in California's electoral and legislative process."
In 1984, voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have revised campaign financing laws without the major use of taxpayers' funds.
In a related action, the Senate Elections Committee, by a 4-0 vote, approved a campaign financing bill similar to the one vetoed by the governor in 1984. Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), the author, indicated that the bill could be used as a backup measure, depending upon what happens to Brown's measure.
The Lockyer proposal went to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration.