Gutting campaign reform

Politicians need to kill the bill that skirts finance limits
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EDITORIAL A bill that could gut many local campaign finance laws is zipping through the legislature with the support of both the Republican and Democratic parties — and only a few activists seem to be paying attention. We've written about the bill, AB 1430 by Assemblymember Martin Garrick (R–San Diego), on the politics blog at www.sfbg.com. It has already cleared the State Assembly, 77–0, and is headed to the State Senate floor, where only one member — Carole Migden of San Francisco — has come out in opposition.

The Republicans and the Democrats love this bill because it would allow their parties to use unlimited amounts of money to support local candidates. That's become increasingly common in this state; when cities set strict limits on contributions to political candidates, the candidates simply ask their big-money backers to give the money to the state Republican or Democratic Party — which then funnels the laundered, uncontrolled, and often unreported cash into local campaigns.

In fact, the bill comes from the San Diego GOP, which is angry that the San Diego Ethics Commission tried to crack down on nearly a million dollars in unregulated money that went to local races last year.

The bill talks about "membership communications" — as if the parties were simple nonprofits that wanted to send newsletters to their members. That's not what's going on at all, and everyone with any sense knows it. Here's the real story: while the federal and state governments have refused to do any real campaign finance reform, cities and counties all over California have tried to fill the gap. The San Francisco Ethics Commission — for all of its obviously failings (see "Whose Ethics?," 7/11/07) — has the authority and the mandate to regulate local campaigns far more tightly than the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. So the big donors, working through the state parties, are trying to figure out ways to circumvent local rules.

The conservatives in the State Legislature love to talk about local control when it comes to workplace regulations, environmental protection, and schools — but when a bill like this comes along and threatens to eviscerate local control, they utter not a peep. Nor, for the most part, do the liberals, who are aligned with the Democratic Party and don't want to defy its mandates.

The San Francisco Ethics Commission has asked Mayor Gavin Newsom and the supervisors to oppose this bill, but the board has taken no action, and the mayor says he actually supports the bill. That's a disgrace: at the very least, the supervisors should pass a resolution opposing AB 1430 and force the mayor to veto it.

Migden, after talking to the folks at California Common Cause, the public interest campaign organization, took a bold stand against the measure, and she deserves tremendous credit for that. Now the rest of the senate — starting with Leland Yee of San Francisco and President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland — needs to go along and kill this monster. *