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Lobbyist Funds Focus of Campaign Initiative Charges

February 17, 1988|JERRY GILLAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Proponents of a campaign finance reform initiative on the June election ballot Tuesday charged supporters of a rival plan with accepting contributions from big lobbying groups that also pour large sums of money into legislative campaigns.

"Does anyone really believe that the biggest campaign donors in the state really want to take the money out of politics?" asked Fredric Woocher, a spokesman for Taxpayers to Limit Campaign Spending, a group headed by Walter B. Gerken, former chairman of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Woocher charged that 10 large lobbying groups gave $75,172 to the supporters of an initiative backed by Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra).

"It's a classic dirty campaign tactic to say we have done something wrong when they did the same thing to a greater degree," replied Johnson, one of three lawmakers in charge of a group called Campaign Reform Without Taxpayer Financing.

If approved by the voters, the Gerken initiative would limit legislative contributions and expenditures, authorize partial public financing of campaigns, ban the transfer of funds among legislative candidates and prohibit contributions in non-election years.

It borrows heavily from recommendations made by a bipartisan coalition of some of California's biggest business and civic groups.

By way of contrast, the Johnson initiative would cover all state and local elected officials--not just legislative candidates. It would also limit contributions, prohibit public financing and ban transfers of money among candidates, but it would not impose spending limits.

Both measures are designed to curb the skyrocketing costs of legislative campaigns and reduce the reliance on special-interest political contributions that has led critics to charge the Legislature is "the best that money can buy."

10 Lobbying Groups

Woocher said that the 10 large lobbying groups gave most of the $75,172 to the backers of the Johnson plan after the Gerken initiative had qualified and noted that 21 incumbent lawmakers donated another $215,200. He said the largest single lobbying contributor was the California Medical Assn.'s political action committee with $23,172.

Other big donors included the California Insurers PAC, $10,000, Irvine Co., $10,000, and the California League of Financial Services Inc., $10,000.

The 10 lobbying groups contributed $3.6 million to legislative candidates during the 1986 election cycle, according to Woocher.

"I think the people will see the Johnson initiative for what it really is," he said, "a plan devised by those who benefit from the current system in an effort to confuse the voters and maintain the status quo."

Johnson countercharged that Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. gave $20,000 to the Gerken initiative, including in-kind services. He said Carter Hawley Hale Stores and American Medical International each gave $15,000 and the Newhall Land Co. chipped in with another $10,000.

"The big difference between the two initiatives is public financing," he said. "That is welfare for special-interest groups, and we don't have it." State legislative campaigns cost $57.1 million in 1986, a 30% increase over 1984, and are expected to hit the $100-million mark by 1990.

A 1984 campaign finance reform initiative, which contained limited public financing, was rejected by the voters. Republican Gov. George Deukmejian earlier that year vetoed a Democratic-sponsored bill that also called for public financing.

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