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Campaign Financing

March 09, 1987

Walter A. Zelman (Editorial Pages, Feb. 24) is right on the mark in his call for political campaign finance reform in California. If we want to clean up politics, we have to invest some money in it, like we do with presidential campaigns.

However, I am afraid that Zelman understates the severity of the problem. The link between campaign money and policy-making these days is more than just "undesirable." It's costly and dangerous.

The activities of former Assemblyman Bruce Young, fireworks magnate W. Patrick Moriarty, and others convicted on corruption charges were not simply vague violations of reporting laws. They were efforts to use campaign contributions and other gifts to influence an important public issue; in this case, fireworks-caused fires that have resulted in countless deaths, injuries, and property damage.

Even more disturbing is that the money-votes link in the Moriarty scandal is not an isolated incident. Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) said of the recent fight over interstate banking, "If you have equal money coming from both sides, then there's an opportunity to do the right thing." We deserve better than a money-balancing act from our elected officials.

No issues should be decided on the basis of campaign contributions, income, or gifts. Yet the California Commission on Campaign Financing has pointed out numerous other cases where money has appeared to play a key role in public decisions. These include legislation concerning potentially poisonous raw milk, millions of dollars in tax breaks, coastal protections, and many more.

Whether the problem is caused by dishonest legislators, or by a "system" that forces honest legislators to raise tainted money for expensive campaigns, is irrelevant. The fact is that the citizens of this state are paying for the current corrupt system of campaign financing with laws that rob their pocketbooks and endanger their lives.

It's worth it to invest some public money in a cleaner political system which can make decisions based on the merits of an issue, not on the relative greed of the combatants.

ROBERT SHIREMAN

San Francisco

Shireman is coordinator of the Money and Politics Project of the West Coast Regional Office of Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

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