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The Legislature's playing field

How about a pay-as-you-go system in Sacramento?

September 03, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Former political consultant Dan Schnur wants to ban fundraising altogether when the Legislature is in session.
Former political consultant Dan Schnur wants to ban fundraising altogether… (Los Angeles Times )

In honor of Sacramento's version of the playoffs — the final two weeks of the legislative season — we'd like to propose a bill to create a new pay-as-you-go system in the Capitol.

Here's how it would work: The marble statue of Columbus promising the world to Queen Isabella in return for her jewels would be moved from the Rotunda and replaced with booths or kiosks like those on the floors of the major stock exchanges. Computer readouts would show the bills coming to the floor, the members who hadn't yet committed their votes, the next office for which those members were running and the size of their campaign chests.

Each lobbyist or other person with an interest in the outcome of legislation would come to the kiosks to put in bids for lawmaker votes, up to the $4,100-per-individual campaign contribution limit or the $8,200 cap for certain committees. The price of a lawmaker's vote would go up or down, depending on how many other votes the donor had already sewn up on his or her way to passage or defeat, as the case might be.

At the conclusion of the playoffs (note to copy editors: please make sure we spelled "playoffs" correctly, because for some reason we keep forgetting to type the second letter), as the bills move to the governor's desk, Capitol staff would cart the kiosks and bidding equipment over to the bronze sculpture of the grizzly bear in the hallway outside the governor's office. This would be the legislative World Series, with donors able to give up to $27,200 a pop as the governor decides what to sign and what to veto.

Under current law, none of this can be done in the Capitol. Lawmakers and lobbyists who want to accept campaign contributions even as bills are coming to the floor are required to run across the street to one of those bars or restaurants where the TVs show floor votes instead of baseball and complete their transactions there, then hustle back to the floor, checks and voting instructions in hand.

Former political consultant Dan Schnur wants to go the other way, banning fundraising when the Legislature is in session. He wants to end the spectacle of the people's representatives blatantly selling their votes. He would require them to put at least a few days, and not just a walk across the street, between their politicking and their lawmaking. He wants people to go to to sign a petition in support of his plan.

And sure, that would make politics more honest and release lawmakers ever so slightly from the grip of moneyed interests so they could go back to work for the voters who elected them.

But what would be the fun of that?

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