Real Campaign Reform
ONCE THEY WIN ELECTED OFFICE, politicians pretty much lose
interest in campaign-finance reform. That's part of the
reason such laws are often badly written and listlessly
enforced, as recent Times stories have illustrated. And
that's part of the reason California needs public financing
The Fair Political Practices Commission, California's
campaign watchdog, recently dropped 225 campaign
investigations, some years old, because it lacked the
resources to complete them. The FPPC has recently hired new
investigators who will try to stay more current. But its
problems run deeper.
Although the FPPC is responsible for investigating campaign
violations, its authority is fractured. The secretary of
state, not the FPPC, collects and releases information on
campaign contributions, and the state Franchise Tax Board,
an independent agency, conducts all routine audits of
campaign finance. Audits are not conducted until well after
each election and, unbelievably in this computer age, are
delivered to the FPPC as paper files.
This division of labor is sorely inefficient, especially
compared to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which
briskly oversees city elections. The commission ultimately
reports to the City Council but is otherwise its own
The increasing murkiness of state political contributions,
reported Sunday by Times staff writer Dan Morain, comes
from the exploitation of loopholes. The identities of
donors may be reported months after the donations
â€" and sometimes even after the election.
Contributions can be shuffled from one campaign committee
to another. And nonprofit groups often need not report
their donors at all.
Public funding of political candidates would diminish
overall campaign spending as well as candidates' dependence
on special interests. Other sources of funding, such as
political action committees, should be subject to instant
online reporting and thorough donor disclosure. Every
political campaign should be audited. And a single powerful
agency should serve as the campaign watchdog.
Public campaign finance systems in Arizona and Maine have
been successful. In California, such a system would lift
the yoke of incessant money-grubbing from campaigns and
could ease the way for further reform. It would be an
investment with a big return.
See the article on Los Angeles Times website