SACRAMENTO — Led by Republicans, the Assembly on Tuesday defeated the year's main legislative attempt to limit campaign spending and create a system of partial public financing.
The bill, which easily cleared the Senate this year, failed in the Assembly, 35 to 34. Supporters hope to revive the measure this summer. But in order to pass, the measure would need 54 votes in the 80-member Assembly.
The bill sought to place before voters a November ballot measure calling for campaigns to be financed in part from public contributions. It also would have required caps on campaign spending, campaign donations and the amount that candidates transfer to one another from their campaign coffers.
Under terms of the ballot measure, the Legislature would have been required to come up with a plan by 1993 detailing how the campaign finance changes would be implemented.
Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), who led the floor fight against the measure, reaffirmed his opposition to public financing, saying it would not be an improvement. The measure would only change "the system to which most of us have become addicted," he said.
Johnson likened such a change to a heroin addict switching to methadone.
Now, campaign money comes mainly from special interests that may contribute unlimited money to state campaigns. Johnson sponsored a ballot proposition that was passed by voters in 1988, but was later gutted by the courts.
He is pushing another proposal to limit campaign contributions but would not limit campaign spending and would prohibit public financing of campaigns.
On Tuesday, 32 of the Assembly's 33 Republicans, joined by three Democrats, voted against the measure. Eleven members did not vote.
"If the Republicans hold together as a Neanderthal block and simply complain about the system, we can't make very much progress," said the bill's author, Sen. Barry Keene (D-Ukiah).
Keene's bill was the latest in a lengthy attempt to change the way in which campaigns for state and local offices are funded. As with the latest bill, the efforts have bogged down over the issue of public financing of campaigns, similar to the federal system by which people may earmark $1 of their income taxes for presidential campaigns.
"We're going to have to look for alternatives," Keene said. "We can't go on like this, with this stalemate."
California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, which supported the measure, vowed to lobby legislators, urging them to support the measure when it is reconsidered this summer.