Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be remembered as the second Hiram Johnson, but having raised over $114 million from private interests
since the 2003 recall, he has an uphill battle. In an effort to build
up his reformer credentials, Arnold is pushing his version of campaign
finance reform: a ban on fundraising during budget negotiations.
It’s not a good idea to allow politicians to raise money from private
interests as they’re doling out the approximately $100 billion in
public funds that make up California’s budget. But the far worse
corruption problem is the fundraising frenzy that grips the Capitol at
the end of the legislative session each year, when the fate of
hundreds, if not thousands, of bills is determined by lawmakers and the
Last year, about 100 fundraisers
were held in the blocks surrounding the Capitol during the last three
weeks of session. Lawmakers moved from committee hearings where
lobbyists pressed their agendas, to fundraisers where those very same
interests paid $3,300 to schmooze them over bagels and coffee.
It is illegal to mix fundraising and lawmaking in California. The
current artificial barrier — politicians can’t take a check inside the
Capitol building, but anything goes across the street at Chops — is
woefully inadequate. But banning the practice for a few months during
budget season will do little to stem donor influence over politicians.
It’s like a plan to ban steroid use, but only during spring training.
Any meaningful fundraising ban would have to encompass the entire
period the legislature is in session, and the month the governor has to
sign bills as well. Such a ban would, of course, mean just a few months
a year for political fundraising. And as soon as the blackout period
ended, checks would likely come pouring in from special interests
rewarding those politicians who served them well.