Our View: Fundraising blackout could help cleanse politics

February 24, 2014 

Sen. Alex Padilla's bill would require major schools to continue athletes' scholarships if they're no longer able to participate in athletics.

No one reasonably expects to get money, and the influence of those who have it, out of politics. But it is within the realm of possibility to slow the flow in the pipeline between campaign contributions, fundraising parties and legislation in California.

A fundraising blackout during the final, critical days of the legislative session might help.

A blackout is being proposed as part of a package of four bills introduced last week by state Sen. Alex Padilla, who is running for secretary of state. Senate Bill 1101 would ban fundraising by legislators in the final 100 days of the legislative session and for seven days after the session ends. This is when much of the political pressure is applied on critical legislation such as the state budget and the high-stakes bills that generally appear in the last days of each session.

This time limit may be crucial to get any kind of support in the Senate or Assembly. One of the main criticisms when fundraising blackouts were proposed in the past was that they would make it difficult for less-affluent legislators to raise money for campaigns against wealthy challengers. While that discounts the value of the incumbent’s advantage, it does deflate the argument because much of the year is open to soliciting funds.

The other three bills in the package would require that contributions of more than $100 be reported electronically within 24 hours of receipt if made fewer than 90 days before an election, and within five days at any other time; would mandate the reporting of campaign-funded communications within 24 hours; and would limit candidates from raising money for more than one seat at a time.

They’re all good-government ideas, but the fundraising blackout offers the best potential to stop the proliferation of legalized corruption. The case of uberlobbyist Kevin Sloat offers a good example of why. Sloat, a powerful K Street lobbyist, was hit with a record fine – $133,500 by the Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this month – for holding lavish fundraising parties at his house with fine cigars and finer booze that far exceeded the $500 limit for such events.

In announcing the bill package, Padilla said this would “reduce the likelihood of an unseemly overlap of public policy and campaign contributions.” Presumably, he should know. He was one of the 37 lawmakers who received FPPC warning letters for holding political fundraisers at Sloat’s home – in Padilla’s case, during the legislative session.

USC political scientist Dan Schnur, also a candidate for secretary of state, has pointed out that the legislative session is like a relay race between fundraisers and votes. Schnur proposes an absolute ban on fundraising during the entire session.

A smaller blackout period will surely be more palatable to legislators, but Padilla’s proposal faces an uphill battle for support. We wish him luck.

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