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California and the West

Bill Would Restore Prop. 73 Campaign Donation Limits

Politics: Backers say measure could withstand court tests, but concede that it faces uphill battle in Legislature.

January 09, 1998|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Secretary of State Bill Jones and two legislative veterans of political reform battles proposed Thursday that California take its fight to limit campaign contributions back to the future.

The legislation they introduced would restore the limits contained in Proposition 73, a voter-approved 1988 initiative that was briefly the law before being struck down by a federal judge in 1990 as unconstitutional.

Jones, a Republican, and Sens. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) and Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), coauthors of Proposition 73, proposed their new bill three days after U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton struck down Proposition 208, the 1996 initiative that set strict contribution limits.

Karlton is the same judge who invalidated Proposition 73.

Jones and the lawmakers asserted that their bill would be crafted to pass constitutional muster. But they conceded that it faces an uphill challenge in a Legislature whose members are newly liberated from contribution limits and busily scooping up reelection funds.

Proposition 73 restricted contributions to legislative and statewide candidates to $1,000 per donor, including individuals, labor unions, corporations and others. Major political committees and parties could give up to $5,000 to a candidate.

In 1990, the only year that Proposition 73 was in full force, general election contributions to legislative candidates fell to $23.9 million from $40.1 million in 1988, Jones said. General election contributions soared to $35.4 million in 1992 and reached $55.6 million in 1996.

Karlton struck down Proposition 73 on grounds that it favored incumbents over challengers. The lawmakers said they would craft their bill to avoid that problem.

Karlton also ruled that Proposition 73's total ban on transferring funds between candidates was unconstitutional. The new bill would allow such transfers, but limit them to $1,000.

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