At first blush, it sounds outrageous that California politicians should be amassing multimillion-dollar political war chests for supposed ballot measure campaigns, then spending it for other political purposes, for semi-personal expenses or, in at least one case, for criminal defense lawyers.
In reality, however, the rampant use of ballot measure funds to circumvent restrictions on direct contributions to candidates and officeholders in California is just additional evidence that the limits were wrong-headed in the first place.
This column and other critics pointed out that Proposition 34, devised by the Legislature to stave off even tighter contribution restrictions and enacted by voters nearly a decade ago, would simply encourage clever politicians to find ways to get around limits, such as moving money through parties, and drive the whole business of political money underground.
That's precisely what's happened.
Never miss a local story.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lesser politicos set up so-called ballot measure committees, to which contributions were not restricted.
Additionally we saw the explosion of so-called "independent expenditures" on behalf of politicians and of using political parties and other entities to launder special interest funds.
It's no accident, for example, that the annual fundraising golf tournament sponsored by the speaker of the state Assembly now directs the money, often tens of thousands of dollars at a clip, into the state Democratic Party's treasury, rather into the speaker's own campaign fund.
As a Republican legislator, Ross Johnson was a progenitor of California's limits on individual campaign contributions and now as chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission he's outraged that politicians are circumventing his rules by creating ballot measure committees as fronts for unlimited political fundraising, calling them "open-ended slush funds."
At Johnson's behest, the FPPC last week adopted new rules that restrict, somewhat, how those funds are used.
But he knows, or he certainly should know, that adopting even more rules won't prevent clever political minds from devising other ways to skirt the restrictions.
Ultimately, you cannot reduce special interest influence via restricting campaign money without repealing free speech because the stakes in political decision-making are so large.
The only real political effect of such restrictions is to drive influence-peddling underground, thus making it ever more difficult to connect the contributors and their interests with the recipients and their official actions.
If you keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result, you're either terminally naïve or insane.
We should junk all restrictions, let anyone give any amount to any politician or cause they wish, require full and immediate disclosure so the connections can be charted, and impose draconian penalties for failure to do so.
That other stuff is nonsense.
Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee.