A smoker can resist taking a puff for six months, then one day resolve fails. Even the threat of diabetes won’t keep a serious chocoholic away from the candy box forever. And California’s state senators went two whole years refusing to take campaign contributions during the busiest time of the legislative year.
Bad habits are hard to kick.
Like smokers or those with a serious sugar jones, the California Senate decided Thursday to roll back prohibitions on accepting campaign cash in the heat of the budget battle. It wasn’t fair, reasoned Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, that senators had limits when others did not.
So one of the rules the Senate put in place two years ago when it was trying to polish its image – tarnished by a gun-running senator, a senator who lied about his address and another still awaiting trial, accused of taking bribes, kickbacks and favors – went the way of an addict’s promise.
It was legendary Californian Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh who called campaign cash the “mother’s milk of politics.” Senators must be thirsty.
Perhaps de León et al. expect to be excused because the reforms were so modest to begin with. Lobbyists, special interests, rich uncles, etc. could give their favorite politician money anytime except the 30 days when the state’s budget was being written and the final 30 days of the legislative year. The other 305 days of the year, deluge on.
And yes, anyone can go onto the secretary of state’s website and find a list of contributors to candidates (assuming rules are being followed). So the senators can legitimately ask, is the contribution’s timing really important?
It’s also true the Assembly didn’t even pay lip service to campaign finance reform. So while senators were straining to resist contributions, Assembly members were lining up at the milk bar. According to the Los Angeles Times, there were 42 Assembly fundraisers during one 30-day Senate blackout last year. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the Assembly – unless it can be used to suck up campaign cash.
Almost all of the Valley’s local senators – Anthony Cannella of Ceres, Cathleen Galgiani of Manteca, Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte and Jean Fuller of Bakersfield – voted for this procedural change. Since they’re all secure in their seats, we’ll assume their “aye” votes were cast to help other senators who aren’t. Only Andy Vidak of Hanford voted against it.
No, this change isn’t the end of the world. In fact, we hope it is the start of something better.
Like smokers who can’t kick the habit or chocoholics still in love with Mrs. See, all politicians need help; an intervention.
Instead of procedural rules that can be changed anytime the cash craving hits, voters must demand true campaign finance reform. Secretary of State Alex Padilla proposed outlawing contributions to all legislators during the final 100 days of the session. Others want tighter contribution reporting deadlines and forcing into the open the names of those trying to hide their contributions through so-called super PACs. Some would ban all direct contributions.
One Southern Californian wants to make legislators wear the labels or names of anyone who donates – like sponsored NASCAR drivers. We’ll put that in the last-resort category.
There’s no shortage of ideas. Only a shortage of willpower – to either enact new rules or to stick with them once they’ve been instituted. That’s what must change.