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'Tis the Season to Fund Campaigns

Politicians hustle for contributions as Prop. 208 restrictions near

December 08, 1996

Barely a month after the election, California's political cash registers are operating overtime as politicians rush to collect all they can before the campaign fund-raising restrictions of Proposition 208 become effective Jan. 1. Sacramento is the focus as legislators use the few remaining days of untrammeled fund-raising to squeeze the special interest cash cows--lobbyists--for their 1998 campaigns. From the first of the year on, lobbyists are barred from contributing.

Fund-raising will be severely restricted during nonelection years, with a contribution blackout running from New Year's Day to at least June. These are just a few of the new limitations imposed by the initiative, overwhelmingly approved by voters Nov. 5. So it is no surprise that scores of legislators are holding fund-raising events this month and otherwise collecting as much money as they can. There is nothing illegal about it, and any political consultant will tell you the smart people are bankrolling what they can now.

Assemblywoman Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey told a Times reporter that she is holding a fund-raiser for a probable race for the state Senate in 1998 and wants to keep up with a potential opponent. "He's doing it, so I have to," she explained.

All that said, the frenzy illustrates that the demand for campaign money is likely to continue to dominate an officeholder's attention no matter how many reforms are adopted. After Jan. 1, the trick for politicians will be to maximize fund-raising without violating the letter of the new law. Fair enough. But the fact that all of this frantic money-raising is occurring during the holiday season--supposedly a celebration of the spirit of giving rather than receiving--seems rather, well, unseasonable.

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