Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he supports efforts to limit political fundraising and would be open to making more legislative records public during a wide-ranging interview with The Bee's editorial board on Wednesday.
The Sacramento Democrat said he has met with Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist and former head of California's political ethics commission, who is pushing a proposal to ban fundraising during the legislative session.
"There's a nub of a good idea there," Steinberg said. "I think it's going to be hard to get it through, but I support the idea of limiting off-year fundraising."
Steinberg said he has some quibbles with the particulars of Schnur's proposal, which calls for banning fundraising within three days of the end of a legislative session.
Defining when a session starts and ends could get complicated, Steinberg said, adding that it makes more sense to limit fundraising during non-election years. A similar rule applied when he served on the Sacramento City Council, Steinberg said.
"I thought that was a very good law. You could raise a little bit of money for your election or your officeholder expenses. But by definition it meant you could only spend a very small portion of your time in those off years fundraising, and the vast majority of your time was spent on your public responsibilities," he said.
Josh Pane, a lobbyist who served on the City Council with Steinberg in the 1990s, said he encourages the businesses he represents not to donate while the Legislature is in session, and instead give during the fall when lawmakers are on break.
"We've been very successful with that," Pane said. "It's a real focus on policy during the rest of the year."
Schnur is trying to combat common practice in Sacramento, in which lawmakers vote on bills, then walk across the street for luncheons and cocktail receptions, where they receive campaign checks from the Capitol's interest groups. He said he welcomed Steinberg's support, even if they differ on the details.
"If Senator Steinberg is comfortable with some type of chronological limits on when fundraising is permissible, then that's a terrific foundation from which to build," Schnur said.
On the subject of government transparency, Steinberg said he was surprised that a budget proposal to make it voluntary for local governments to comply with the state's Public Records Act drew such a negative response from the media.
"Our intent was not to do anything to weaken the Public Records Act, our intent was to deal with mandate law," Steinberg said.
"We did not see this at the time as a major change. What we believed we were doing was simply shifting the cost to local governments."
After a major backlash from the press, Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Gov. Jerry Brown rescinded the budget plan and instead put forth a constitutional amendment to obligate local governments to comply with the Public Records Act even without reimbursement from the state.
The Legislature, however, is not subject to the Public Records Act.
It has shielded lawmakers' calendars from the press by arguing that releasing them could compromise the security of elected officials.
"Why can't the information be released after the fact?" asked Bee editorial page editor Stuart Leavenworth.
"That's something I'm willing to look at," Steinberg replied.
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @laurelrosenhall.