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First, They Grab the Green

September 07, 2003

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is the current object of scorn for campaign finance reformers. He's done plenty to deserve it, but he is not alone.

Bustamante unapologetically accepted a $1.5-million campaign contribution from a 300-member Indian tribe that operates a hugely profitable gambling casino in San Diego County, as well as $300,000 from another tribe. In all, his contributions from tribes will run well over $2 million. He's also received $500,000 from a union representing state government engineers, architects and surveyors.

Bustamante said he was leveling the playing field with richer opponents and doing what the law allowed. More accurately, he is exploiting a loophole in the state's campaign finance law in direct defiance of years of attempts by California voters to clamp down on outrageous campaign fund-raising and the implied quid pro quo that goes with it.

Bustamante has ample company in his hypocrisy. Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) has joined him in suggesting that the state has no business telling the tribes how many slot machines they can have. Sacramento doesn't tell Hewlett-Packard how many computers it can sell, Bustamante has said, as if there were no difference between a computer and a slot machine. Gov. Gray Davis, the target of the Oct. 7 recall election and recipient of more than $1 million from tribal casino interests, has suggested that he might accept two tribal nominees for the five posts on the state's gambling control commission, the supposedly independent overseer of the casinos. Not to be left behind is actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in running for governor vowed to break the stranglehold of the "special interests" on Sacramento -- and then took nearly $4 million from big land developers and other business interests. The evil special interests, it seems, are only those favoring Democrats.

Proposition 34, passed by voters in 2000, limited individual donations to candidates for governor to $21,200. In a technical maneuver, Bustamante has gotten around this. The state Fair Political Practices Commission says it won't be able to investigate complaints about this action until after the election. Some watchdog.

Bustamante's excuses, Schwarzenegger's about-face, Davis' pandering and McClintock's disingenuousness are all part of the same old political game that energized the recall. But the recall itself will do nothing to change it.

The hypocrisy that infects the campaigns is a good reason to reject the recall. California should put its money (the recall will cost the state and counties an estimated $66 million) and energy into developing real reform of state government -- including campaign fund-raising limits that actually work.

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