Now that the legislative session has ended, and hundreds of bills await
consideration by the governor, it is time to consider how campaign money and
legislating are so intertwined.
Numerous press reports noted that legislators and the governor held more
than 100 fund-raising events during the last two weeks of the session. This
is nothing new. When I worked in Sacramento several years ago as the Fair
Political Practices Commission’s general counsel, I was personally invited,
via a telephone call supposedly from the speaker’s office, to attend an end
of session Speaker Brown fund-raiser. When I noted that I was prohibited
from making contributions because I was with the FPPC, the reply incredibly
was, “We are sure you can find a way around that rule.”
So not much has changed, except that there are more events and the
fund-raisers are much more expensive. But a new wrinkle has been added:
People who attend the event, and promise to pay but don’t actually provide a
check, are not listed as having made a contribution. The FPPC has issued a
regulation (after I left the Commission) that says that signing a pledge
card is an unenforceable pledge and is not reportable until actually paid.
(A pledge is money promised, but not actually paid, at the time of the
When I helped draft the Political Reform Act of 1974, we specifically
included a section that said that enforceable pledges would be considered
contributions and, thus, reportable. It seems very clear to me that if
someone signs a form saying that they are going to make a contribution later
and attends an event where they consume food, then the promise to pay should
be considered enforceable. Let’s hope that the FPPC reconsiders its
regulation, or interprets it differently, at its next meeting.
A much more serious problem, however, is the problem of money being given at
the same time that important legislation is being considered. The governor,
when he first came into office, proposed that all contributions be
prohibited until the legislature passes a budget. That seemed to me to be a
halfway measure: a good start but not really a solution to the problem.
CGS has recommended that no contribution be given in a non-election year.
This would prohibit contributions being given, and fund-raisers being held,
in the last week of a session in the odd-numbered years. It would remove the
link between campaign contributions and end-of-session actions by the
Legislature and the governor every-other year.
It still leaves the problem of money given in an election year when bills
are being considered. Some people find it amazing that legislators who have
no competition are receiving large contributions. But why should they be
surprised? These contributions are being given by special-interest groups
who want something from government.
Several years ago, I discovered that the California Medical Association
(CMA) had given campaign contributions to every returning legislator but
one; they gave to the most conservative and the most liberal of legislators.
When I called the CMA and asked why they gave to every single legislator
(but one), they first asked which legislator they had not contributed to so
that they could give to him, and then stated: “Losers don’t legislate.”
The public has a good sense of what is going on in Sacramento (and
Washington). So far, they have accepted business as usual. At some point,
maybe this year, maybe in the near future, they will say enough is enough
and drastically change this system of what some call “legalized bribery.”