Democrats now enjoy two-thirds "supermajorities" in both
houses of the California Legislature, and since the
November election they've been inundated with warnings
against "overreaching" and abusing that power.
It's good advice. But while those who have great power must
show restraint, they also need to know when to wield it
wisely. Here's something worthwhile they can do not just
for their own party, but for every California voter.
Change the state's campaign finance rules.
Politicians and pundits love to decry the corrosive effects
of money in politics. But recent efforts to make campaign
financing more transparent to the voting public have bumped
up against the requirement for a two-thirds majority in the
state Legislature. Last year, two attempts to pass what's
known as the California DISCLOSE Act fell just a couple of
votes short in the Assembly. Almost all of the "no" votes
came from Republicans.
Now, Democrats have the votes to get it passed.
The law, now Senate Bill 52 introduced by Sens. Mark Leno
and Jerry Hill, is not earthshaking. It doesn't keep rich
donors from pumping cash into the pockets of their favorite
politicians or pet causes. All it does is require campaign
advertising - broadcast, print, online - to prominently
include the names of its top three funding sources.
It's hard to believe that a law so simple would have such a
hard time getting through the state Legislature. But when
you realize that many of those legislators at some point in
their political careers have benefited from anonymous or
deceptive donations, and stand to do so again in some
future campaign, you might understand a reluctance to
tighten up the rules.
If they don't do it now, though, the fault will belong to
the Democrats. They have the power to get this through, and
they should do it.
Last year, California's political class went into a tizzy
after an anonymous Arizona group poured $11 million into
campaigns aimed at killing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax package
and at passing a ballot initiative to curb the political
power of unions.
But when the state sued to find out the source of the
money, it was discovered that two nonprofit groups behind
the funding were covered by federal laws that allowed their
donors to remain anonymous.
Senate Bill 3, by Sens. Leland Yee and Ted Lieu, would
require nonprofit groups that give at least $100,000 to a
political campaign to release the names of their donors. It
also requires a two-thirds majority for passage.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Yee promoted
his bill with a statement that is as American as apple pie:
"Our democracy should not be bought and sold in shady
Unfortunately, neither of these bills will keep that from
occurring. But each would shine another small sliver of
sunlight into the shady world of campaign financing. And a
step in the right direction is better than no step at
Democrats in Sacramento now have the power to do it. Let's
hope they also have the will.