Friday, April 14, 2006

Interesting Insights on California Campaign Finance Reform
Ned from TheRestofUs.org was on Capital Public Radio's Insight program yesterday along with former Senate Pro Tem John Burton, current Chair of the California Republican Party Duff Sundheim, Donna Gerber of the California Nurses Association, John Sims of McGeorge Law School, Shane Goldmacher of Capitol Weekly, and Armando Viramontes of Assembly Member Loni Hancock's office. You can listen to it here: http://www.capradio.org/programs/insight/default.aspx?showid=1826&programid=10

The group discussed two main topics of interest. First, whether or not California should adopt clean money campaign finance systems similar to what Maine and Arizona have done. Donna Gerber put in a plug for the ballot initiative that the Nurses Association has filed (with input from TheRestofUs.org) and are currently gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot. It lowers limits on what big donors can contribute to parties and PACs, bans corporations from contributing to candidates and ballot committees, and provides qualified candidates the option of giving up all private contributions in exchange for a limited amount of public campaign funds. Read more about it here: http://www.cleanmoneyelections.org/

Armando Viramontes spoke about AB 531, a legislative bill that provides the clean money option but not the measures to limit big money for all candidates and ballot measures. Due to the strong demand for reform that was created by the backlash against Arnold Schwarzenegger's fundraising for his special election last year, this clean money bill has sailed through the Assembly and has a real chance of clearing the Senate as well. If you live in California, now would be a good time to contact your state Senator to express support. The bill may head to a big committee vote as soon as next Tuesday.

Duff Sunstein was clearly invited to the show to act as the opponent, but he actually expressed support for the concept of campaign finance reform and had some interesting comments. He noted that because of the Supreme Court's ruling in 1976 called Buckley v. Valeo, big donors can still spend money to influece elections by creating their own TV ads even if they don't make contributions to candidates. He and law prof. John Sims agreed that both the Nurses initiative and the Hancock bill would be upheld by the courts, but Sunstein argued that the money would just flow out of the system. Sims said that what we really need is a constitutional amendment to overturn the wrongheaded Supreme Court ruling in Buckley.

Ned helped set the record straight by noting that the Nurses initiative included a limit on how much someone could contribute to an independent campaign to support or smear a candidate. He also reminded listeners that the Supreme Court is revisiting the issue of spending limits in a case right now, with a ruling expected by June. (read the brief submitted by TheRestofUs.org and other reform groups here.)

It's quite possible that the Supreme Court will again rule against mandatory spending limits and that future court rulings could even strike down limits on independent expenditure campaigns. If so, Duff Sunstein may be right about the need for a campaign finance amendment to the US Constitution. The rest of us should give credit to the head of the California Republican Party for his bold prediction.

John Burton, by the way, said that he hated fundraising while in office and that the only two people he knew who liked it were Gray Davis (recalled as Governor of California after voter disgust with his fundraising) and Alan Cranston (former CA Senator who left office in a cloud after being one of the Senators named in the Keating Five Scandall.)

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