Legislators should be banned from fund-raising while working

August 22, 2013 

State legislators should be busy right now, in the final weeks of the session, deliberating on what bills should or should not be made law.

But they're finding the time to rake in the money for future campaigns, doing a bang-up job — better than any editorial writer or pundit — demonstrating why California needs an initiative to ban fund-raising during the legislative session.

As The Sacramento Bee's Laurel Rosenhall reported Wednesday, about 80 politicians and political hopefuls will be holding fund-raisers in bars and restaurants around the Capitol in the next three weeks. At least 13 were scheduled for Wednesday. Many of these are hosted by sitting lawmakers who are making key decisions on bills as we speak.

Think about that. Voters elect lawmakers to represent their interests in the Legislature. But day after day at the end of the session, when they should be looking out for their constituents, lawmakers are rubbing elbows with lobbyists representing industries, labor unions and all manner of special interest groups. This kind of fund-raising at the end of the session is a corruption of representative government — legalized corruption.

And the money involved isn't chump change.

On Monday, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez will have a cocktail reception at The Mix Downtown in Sacramento. A flier for the fund-raiser invites lobbyists and others to be a "host" for the mere cost of $13,600. Just a ticket to sip martinis with Perez will cost you $2,000.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, presided over one of the most important Assembly hearings of the year on Wednesday — one in which the Assembly Appropriations Committee decided which bills would go to the floor for a vote and which would die. After the hearing, he strolled across L Street to Chicory, where he conveniently scheduled a fund-raiser, with tickets up to $4,100.

Sick of this kind of institutionalized influence peddling, Dan Schnur, director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, has called on lawmakers to pass a bill banning fund-raising during the legislative session. He has pretty much given up on them acting. That means an initiative may be the only way to force lawmakers to do what they should anyway.

Critics of Schnur's proposal — many of whom are vested in the year-round fund-raising — oppose it for a variety of reasons. Some say it would handicap incumbents, since their opponents would face no restrictions. Others say it would prompt more money to flow into shadowy independent expenditure campaigns.

These are legitimate concerns, but they also serve as excuses to do nothing. In an April editorial, this editorial board urged lawmakers to ward off an initiative by voluntarily adopting a policy to not raise money in the final month of the legislative session. They failed to take that advice.

By continuing to grovel for campaign dollars at a time they should be doing the people's business, lawmakers disgrace the state that they serve. But on the upside, they are helping us make the case for a fund-raising ban during the entire legislative session. Thank you, lawmakers. Great work!

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