Democrats Seek New Rules on Political Finances

By Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau

Assembly Democrats unveiled a trio of bills Monday to expand political finance and disclosure laws in response to incidents involving Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Republicans blasted the bills as a silly attempt to embarrass the governor in the final days of this year's legislative session.

"These three politicians should be looking at the hundreds of bills they need to vote on," said Karen Hanretty, spokeswoman for the California Republican Party. "Instead, they're pulling a political stunt."

Democrats characterized the measures - Assembly Bills 1391, 1363 and 534 - as an attempt to restore more trust in state politics.

"We, as elected officials, hold office for one primary reason - to represent the interests of the people," said Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez, D-Los Angeles. "It's a sacred trust ... that has to be protected from abuse and even the perception of abuse."

None of the measures will be eligible for a floor vote this year. All would require passage by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature.

Democratic lawmakers do not accuse Schwarzenegger of breaking state finance laws but claim current standards are too weak.

The new proposals, supported by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, were released Monday by Montañez and colleagues Dave Jones of Sacramento and Mark Leno of San Francisco.

AB 1391 stems from the disclosure that campaign committees controlled by Schwarzenegger paid more than $150,000 in rent to Main Street Plaza, a Santa Monica building owned by the governor.

Leno's bill would bar candidates or elected officials from using their campaign funds to lease or purchase real estate owned by a business they control.

AB 1391 also would require expanded disclosure of outside income.

Under current law, candidates or elected officials need only disclose whether their outside income meets or exceeds four thresholds, beginning with a low of $500 and ending with "over $100,000."

Disclosure laws were not crafted to fit someone like Schwarzenegger, a multimillionaire as an actor and investor, Democrats contend.

AB 1391 would add four additional income categories, ending with "over $2 million."

AB 1363, by Jones, would set the ceiling even higher - at more than $10 million.

Jones' bill also would require the governor and other constitutional officers to place their reportable assets and real estate in a qualified blind trust. Schwarzenegger already does so.

AB 534, by Montañez, was sparked by a 2003 deal in which Schwarzenegger was promised $5 million to edit two bodybuilding magazines that receive advertising revenue from dietary supplement companies that could have been affected by legislation the governor vetoed last year.

Schwarzenegger complied with state law by disclosing that his holding company, Oak Productions Inc., received more than $10,000 from the magazines' publisher, American Media Operations Inc.

Montañez's bill, AB 534, would mandate additional disclosure. In Schwarzenegger's case, it would have required the governor to disclose, if he had personal knowledge, the names of any companies spending large sums to advertise in the two magazines.

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