Common Cause and other, similarly inclined reform groups have for decades advocated limits on campaign contributions as a cure for the corrupting influence of special interest money.
The Watergate scandal begat limits on presidential and congressional campaign contributions four decades ago and more recently, they found their way into California's politics.
However, every election cycle proves anew that the supposed contribution limits don't really limit money in politics, but do drive political money underground and make it more difficult for voters to know who's giving to whom.
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So-called "independent expenditures" have exploded, many from grandiosely named front groups that do not have to disclose their financial sources.
Moneyed interests, from the presidential level downward, not only wield more influence than ever, but they and their favored politicians now have a vested interest in maintaining the supposed limits so that they can hide what they do.
There are two reasons for that perverse outcome.
One is that seemingly massive campaign spending is really minuscule in comparison to the financial stakes in political decision-making. Contributors may spend millions, but the decisions that politicians make can mean billions.
California's legislators, governor, other elected officials and those whom they appoint to countless boards and commissions make decisions on budgets, taxes, fees, utility rates, insurance premiums, land use development, horse racing rules, gambling and liquor regulation, public employee pay and benefits and other matters that conservatively involve a half-trillion dollars a year.
That's at least 1,000 times as much as interest groups spend on campaigns and lobbying each year, so they have a huge incentive to invest, as it were, in politics. And therefore, they have a huge incentive to find ways around restrictions on campaign financing.
The second reason is that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that strict limits on campaign spending violate constitutional free speech, most recently by overturning Montana's ban on corporate contributions, which is why "independent expenditures" have assumed such a large role.
The obvious remedy for this situation would be to repeal campaign contribution limits, allow anyone to give anything they wish to anyone they wish, and require full and immediate disclosure of all such transactions.
Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, is carrying legislation to that effect, having amended it into Assembly Bill 1146 as it sat in the Senate.
If legislators are interested in real campaign reform, they'll embrace AB 1146. If they want to maintain the status quo and maintain secrecy in campaign finance, they'll reject it.
It's just that simple.