Various Groups Back Campaign Finance Reform

By Harrison Shepherd, Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- Separate Los Angeles city and statewide efforts to establish a "clean-money" system of taxpayer financing for political campaigns advanced Tuesday, with advocates hoping to reduce the influence of special interests in political races., The California Nurses Association said it expects this month to turn in more than the 373,816 signatures required to place a measure on the November ballot that would establish a public-financing system for state campaigns. Advocates said they believe clean money can clear the way for universal health care and other reforms that have been opposed by well-funded lobbying groups. They also see it as an equalizer that would give underfunded groups and committees a better chance of being heard in Sacramento.

"After my first year in the Legislature, I realized you can do a lot of good, little things around the edges ... but for the big reforms, there is too much money in play and (there is) not the ability to get it done," said Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who has authored a clean-money bill pending in the Legislature.

Hancock's bill, which is similar to the nurse initiative, has passed the Assembly and will be heard in the Senate next week.

More than 800 nurses rallied Tuesday at the Capitol to support their own ballot measure and Hancock's bill. The nurses association is promoting its measure because it is skeptical the Legislature will pass Hancock's bill. The nurse measure also is considered to be stronger.

The California Nurses Association has not been known as a big contributor of political donations in California politics, but in the past several years it has been energetically working to block Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after being angered by his efforts to circumvent state-mandated nurse-patient staffing ratios. Nurses say they believe public financing will further stymie the governor, who has been a prolific fundraiser from corporate interests since taking office.

They are also pushing for universal health care and said they would like to limit the power of the insurance and hospital industries to block those efforts through political contributions.

The plan is opposed by a number of taxpayer and business groups, and most Republican lawmakers voted against the bill last month.

Opponents argue taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill for campaigns -- particularly at a time when the state is still facing a serious budget deficit -- and taxes should not be increased to pay for it.

"I don't know that there's a clamor out there for public financing," said Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, R-Moorpark. "Especially when public financing, to the extent its advocates propose, would mean funding education less, fewer firefighters, fewer police on the streets, cuts in transportation -- all of those things I think most people consider more important."

Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill or initiative.

A key difference between the two plans is the nurse measure applies to initiative campaigns. It also lowers the maximum amounts individuals and corporations can contribute to candidates who are not seeking public financing.

The nurse plan also spells out a specific funding source -- a corporate tax increase. Hancock said she would like to find a similar dedicated source so the funds do not come out of other state programs.

Under the nurse plan, taxes on corporations would be increased by 0.2 percent, generating at least $200 million to pay for the campaigns of candidates who volunteer to participate.

The requirements and funds involved vary among offices, but for an Assembly seat, for example, major party candidates have to collect a signature and $5 in contributions each from 750 people to participate in the system.

The candidates would then be eligible for a minimum of $250,000 in the primary and $400,000 in the general election. If an opposing candidate does not participate in the system and is raising more in contributions, the clean-money candidate is eligible for amounts to match the opponent, up to five times the minimum.


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