Lawmakers raise millions before limits kicked in

The Associated Press
Friday February 09, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Getting a jump on new campaign contribution limits, California legislators raised $7.3 million between the November election and the end of 2000 in donations of up to $250,000. 

The end-of-the-year fund-raising, before voter-approved contribution limits took effect Jan. 1, enabled lawmakers to boost their campaign treasuries to a total of $18.3 million. 

“Clearly the candy store was open and they were out to get the candy,” said Tony Miller, a former top state elections official and a supporter of tough contribution limits. 

Proposition 34, approved by voters on Nov. 7, put a $3,000-per-election limit on donations to legislators from most sources. 

Small-donor committees, groups of at least 100 people who each chip in no more than $200 a year, can give up to $6,000. There is no limit on how much political parties can give to lawmakers. 

So far only organizations representing teachers, firefighters and real estate agents have formed small-donor committees. 

There were no donation limits for legislative races before Jan. 1, except for campaigns to fill midterm vacancies in the Senate or Assembly. Earlier attempts to impose broader limits were either rejected by lawmakers, vetoed by the governor, turned down by voters or overturned by the courts. 

Lawmakers put Proposition 34 on the ballot, saying it was a compromise that could pass a court constitutionality test. 

The end-of-the-year fund-raising ranged from a few thousand dollars taken in by some rank-and-file lawmakers to the $2.8 million collected by the Legislature’s top leaders, Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco. 

Burton raised nearly $1.8 million; Hertzberg took in more than $1 million. 

Other big fund-raisers included Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Laguna Niguel, Assembly Minority Leader Bill Campbell, R-Villa Park, Assemblyman Herb Wesson, D-Culver City, Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Sen. Bob Margett, R-Arcadia. 

Each of them raised more than $200,000. Dunn’s total topped $441,000, including $150,000 from Burton. 

Congressional Democrats gave $250,000 to Burton and $200,000 to Hertzberg. The speaker also got $100,000 from AT&T. Steven Kirsch, founder of the Internet company InfoSeek.com, gave $100,000 to freshman Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. 

Simitian said had no qualms about taking that much money from Kirsch. 

“This is a guy who is pro-environment, pro-campaign finance reform and concerned about the vitality of high tech, none of which troubles me in the slightest,” Simitian said. 

“People who give to me buy into my politics and my values; I don’t buy into their politics and values because of their gift.” 

He said wasn’t actively fund-raising after the election and was surprised when he got that large a donation. He had a little more than $139,000 in end-of-the-year donations altogether. 

There were also dozens of five-figure donations to legislators from labor unions, insurance companies, Indian tribes and other groups that lobby at the Capitol. 

“I think that groups maybe made an effort to empty out their coffers (before Proposition 34 took effect),” said Burton. “I think that may have accounted for a larger-than-normal (flow of contributions).” 

Philip Morris and its affiliates were among the most active contributors, giving $422,500 to lawmakers in the last weeks of the year. The tobacco giant and its sister companies were the biggest end-of-the-year contributors to 19 legislators, with donations of up to $25,000. 

“Our philosophy is to support those whom we believe may see issues in the same way we do or may be open to hearing our point of view,” said Peggy Roberts, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris, which also owns Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Co. 

“We have a pretty significant presence there in California through all of our operating companies. California is a pretty important state for us.” 

She said many of the contributions were made in response to requests from lawmakers to help pay off their campaign debts. The company was not asked by legislators nervous about taking tobacco money to delay any donations until after the election, she added. 

Philip Morris gave more than $622,000 to lawmakers last year before the election. 

Proposition 34 also puts a $3,000 limit on transfers of campaign money from one lawmaker to another, and legislators shifted more than $2 million among themselves in the weeks before that cap took effect. 

The money is not included in the $7.3 million fund-raising total. 

Transfers of campaign funds have been one of the sources of power for legislative leaders. They have traditionally raised large amounts of campaign money and then given most of it to their fellow party members. 

Burton gave nearly $821,000 to other Democratic lawmakers between the election and the end of the year. 

Wesson funneled $511,900 to other lawmakers. He said he was trying to help Democrats who could face tough re-election campaigns in 2002, not attempting to line up support for a future campaign for speaker. 

“I don’t believe we did anything contrary to the intent of voters,” he said. “It was a window of opportunity to assist individuals that we are going to need to have here next session if we are going to continue to make improvements on civil rights, education and health care.” 


On the Net: Read the campaign finance reports at www.ss.ca.gov.