SACRAMENTO — Political reform advocates who say Proposition 34’s campaign contribution limits are too weak are considering going to the ballot in 2002 or 2004 to try to strengthen the voter-approved measure.
“Clearly we lost the battle, but we did not lose the war,” said Tony Miller, a former acting secretary of state and a leading opponent of the proposition.
“We do need to need to lower the limits and we do need to close the loopholes. The timing of that is uncertain at the moment.”
Proposition 34, placed on the ballot by the Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis, limits the size of donations to state candidates. It also allows candidates who accept voluntary spending limits to buy space for their statements in voters’ ballot pamphlets.
The proposal got 60 percent of the vote on Nov. 7, despite opposition from groups like California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.
They complained that the candidate donation limits in 34 were too high, that the measure would allow unlimited “soft money” contributions to political parties and that it would supersede tougher limits in a ballot measure approved by voters in 1996.
Proposition 34 puts a limit of $3,000 per election on donations to legislative candidates from most sources. Most contributors will be able to give up to $20,000 per election to candidates for governor and up to $5,000 per election to candidates for other statewide offices.
Small contributor committees – groups of at least 100 people who chip in no more than $200 a year – can give twice those amounts to legislative candidates and statewide candidates who are not running for governor.
The limits will be adjusted every two years for inflation.
There are no limits on how much political parties can give to candidates.
Contributors can give up to $25,000 a year to a political party to support candidates, but there are no restrictions on how much parties can take in “soft money” for voter registration, get-out-the-vote and other efforts that do not involve contributions to candidates.
The limits take effect Jan. 1 for legislative candidates and after the 2002 elections for statewide contenders.
There are no limits now except in races to fill midterm legislative vacancies, and critics say that gives too much clout to big contributors. Efforts to impose broader limits have been rejected by the Legislature or voters, vetoed by the governor or struck down by the courts.
The tougher contribution limits in Proposition 208, approved by voters in 1996, were blocked by a federal court judge who said the donation caps were too low to allow typical candidates to communicate with voters.
Passage of 34 assured that courts would not revive 208’s limits.
Miller said the initiative being contemplated would lower the limits in Proposition 34 but probably not to the level in 208, which allowed donations of up to $500 to legislative candidates and as much as $1,000 to statewide candidates from most sources.
The ballot measure would also bar 34’s unlimited soft-money donations to political parties, Miller said.
The reform advocates are tentatively planning to meet in January to start talking about strategy and how to raise the $700,000 to $1 million needed to get enough voter signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in 2002 or 2004, Miller said.
“There is a consensus that there is a need to fix the problems that were created by Proposition 34,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when something goes on the ballot.”
But one of Miller’s allies, Trudy Schafer, program director for the League of Women Voters of California, said the league is still considering its options.
“It takes a lot of grass-roots efforts to run an initiative campaign,” she said Wednesday. “We do not have big pockets of money. We can’t ask people around the state to work hard on something until we’re reasonably sure that it has the prospect of being the right answer and being successful.”
Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, said 34’s critics might be able to get some changes in the measure by going to court or lobbying the Legislature. But he said another ballot measure is inevitable at some point.
“I think it’s clear that 34 is not going to be the resolution of campaign finance reform in California,” he said.
On the Web: Read Proposition 34 at www.ss.ca.gov.