Klehs Supports State's 'Clean Money' Bill

*Assemblyman's decision comes in response to amount spent on special election

By Tasha Bartholomew, Staff Writer

After seeing how much money was spent during the state's special election earlier this month, Assemblyman Johan Klehs, D-San Leandro, decided to do something about it.

News reports stated that an estimated $260 million was spent on campaign advertising for and against the special election propositions, making the off-year election one of the most expensive in state history.

In response, Klehs contacted Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, about becoming a co-author of the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, which is a bill to provide candidates seeking state office with public funds for their campaigns. The legislation, Assembly Bill 583, was first introduced by Hancock during the 2005 legislative session.

The two assembly members agreed to work together for the bill's passage and limit the money spent on state elections.

The bill needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass and is expected to be taken up again in the Elections and Redistricting Committee when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

According to Klehs, he and Hancock plan to amend AB 583 to eliminate the "millionaire loophole." Under the bill's current provisions, a candidate running against a millionaire who spends millions of dollars of his or her own money would receive a maximum of $900,000 in public funding.

This difference creates a significant challenge for publicly funded candidates in their ability to air enough radio, television, and outdoor advertising to be competitive in the race. By eliminating the loophole, he said, both candidates will have a level playing field to communicate their ideas to voters.

"The California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act could revolutionize California's elections," Klehs said. "(During the) special election, we saw how much money the special interests are willing to pay to influence the vote. Even Gov. Schwarzenegger, who vowed never to take special interest money,has raised more than double the amount that his predecessor raised in the same period. It's time for us to clean up the system, and this bill is a great first step."

But some people are saying that Klehs, who plans to run for the state Senate's 10th District seat next June, didn't always feel this way about the bill. In fact, earlier this year he supposedly felt just the opposite.

California Clean Money Campaign Executive Director Susan Lerner stated in a press release of April 25, 2005, that Klehs would not vote for the bill unless Hancock â€" at that time â€" accepted an amendment lifting all limits on the amount the public would fund, even when she tried to compromise.

Lerner said he "killed it" by insisting that the bill's cost-containment provisions be voided for races in which publicly financed candidates face self-financed millionaires.

The release went on to say that Klehs' position was not popular with grass-roots supporters of full public financing elections, and that an e-mail circulated among Bay Area Democrats referred to Klehs' demands as "a poison pill" to damage AB 583 in the elections committee.

Former Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, who will run against Klehs in the 2006 Senate race, believes Klehs has changed his tune because the Hayward Demos Democratic Club hosted Trent Lange, vice president and spokesperson for the California Clean Money Campaign, at its Friday night meeting.

"The bottom line is that Johan sabotaged the bill and there was a lot of Democratic rebellion saying they wouldn't support him," Corbett said. "Now that the Clean Money people are (in) town, he's done a turnaround for damage control. I welcome the fact that he's now on board, but it's a little late."

In response, Klehs said no vote has ever been taken on the clean money bill and that Corbett is mistaken.

"I have always supported public financing of political campaigns," he said. "Candidates should never win an election based on their personal financial advantage over other candidates. Elections should be won based on a candidate's ideas and issues presented to the voters, not the number of times it was presented."

Tasha Bartholomew covers the city of San Leandro and Ashland. Call her at (510) 293-2471 or send e-mail to tbartholomew@dailyreviewonline.com

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