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The un-reformers

State Democrats and Republicans have joined up to eliminate local campaign funding laws.

June 19, 2007

VOTERS KEEP demanding campaign reform. Cynical lawmakers keep pretending to give it to them, but instead enact phony programs that block change. Then they claim reform doesn't work.

That cycle is now repeating in Sacramento, this time with political parties trying to undo successful local campaign contribution limits and disclosure rules that fed-up voters adopted over the heads of politicians. A bill, AB 1430, crept its way through the Assembly this year barely noticed, but it's now in the open and should be stopped before it gets any further.

The bill would undermine campaign laws in effect in Los Angeles since 1991, not to mention similar reforms in cities and counties across California. Laws to minimize the chance of a big-money interest simply buying a candidate would be neutered. Virtually anonymous and unlimited campaign bankrolling would again be the order of the day, courtesy of those trustworthy protectors of the public interest: the Democratic and Republican parties.

As it is, contract seekers and influence buyers can get around L.A.'s $500 limit on donations to a City Council candidate ($1,000 for a mayoral candidate) by giving thousands to a political party, which then bombards voters with mailers touting their candidate. The party avoids the donation caps by claiming that it's simply trying to keep in touch with its members. But city law still requires the party to identify the ultimate source of the money and to make that information available quickly so voters can know who really is pulling the candidate's strings.

The Democrats and Republicans think even that is too much information to give voters. Their bill -- they're in on it together -- would block the city from requiring immediate disclosure of the funding source. Voters often wouldn't know who is buying the candidate until after he or she is elected. City laws that limit how much a political party can solicit or earmark for "independent" spending in city campaigns also would be out the window.

California's two big parties have been in the business of blocking donation limits and disclosure since at least 2000, when, in the name of tightening state campaign finance law, they instead fooled voters into killing earlier reforms. They now want to gut local controls as well. Let's hope senators reject the bill and show Californians what members of the Assembly lacked: a concern for the public or, lacking that, at least a sense of shame.

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