Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The Los Angeles Times gets kudos for keeping a watchful eye on the California legislature as it conducted all sorts of mischief in the final hours of the legislative session last week. This story details a bill pushed through after midnight on the last day of business that will allow politicians to raise money from lobbyists and other interests for so-called officeholder expenses accounts.
An officeholder expense account is basically a slush fund that a politician can use to travel, eat fancy dinners, give gifts, or make contributions to charities in their district that will make them more popular people. If these things were truly necessary to do their jobs, they could ask their employer (that's us, the voters) to pay the tab. But instead, they want to hit up special interests for yet more cash to cover the bill.
Here is a link to the summary of the bill, which includes links to the legislators who voted to give themselves this privilidge (it passed the Senate 36-0).
This bill amends the California Political Reform Act, the basic rules for money in CA politics. Prop 34, which passed in 2000, amended the PRA to say this about campaign contributions raised after a campaign is over:
§ 85316. Receipt of Contributions After the Date of the Election.
A contribution for an election may be accepted by a candidate for elective state office after the date of the election only to the extent that the contribution does not exceed net debts outstanding from the election, and the contribution does not otherwise exceed the applicable contribution limit for that election.
This little piece of law effectively prohibits officeholders from continuing to raise campaign money once in office. Now, most politicians get around this by starting a new campaign to run for re-election immediately after winding up their old campaign. This means that they get to keep raising money round the clock, and can keep using their campaign account for travel and meal perks if they want to. But, if you are a termed out politicians, like Kevin Murray (who sponsored this bill), you can't just run for re-election so it's harder to keep raising your slush fund.
The right solution would be to prohibit all officeholders, not just termed out ones, from raising slush fund money. Really, we should prohibit them from raising any money at all until the year of the election -- there's just no need for permanent campaigns. Instead, the legislature opted to let all politicians, even termed out ones, raise money for expenses that are questionable at best.
Powerlobbyist Jack Abramoff got himself into trouble for (among other things) illegally arranging travel junkets for members of congress. Abramoff also used a restaraunt he owned to wine and dine politicians. California may make it easier for the future Abramoff's of the world. They'll simply be able to cut a politician a check, which can then be used for travel and meal perks at the legisltors fancy.