Race To Reform Political Fundraising

One public interest group hopes to reward candidates who comply with voluntary campaign spending limits, while the other would place strict limits on both spending and contributions. But both would attack the influence of money on Californians' government -- and both had initiatives on display in recent media-oriented.At noon on Jan. 17, 1996, boxes of petitions bearing more than 700,000 signatures were turned over to the county registrar's office by a group calling itself Californians for Political Reform. Only one hour before, bulldozers, shovels and banners at the state Capitol proclaimed the start of signature-gathering by a group calling itself Californians Against Political Corruption.Their respective ballot initiatives -- one semi-voluntary, one more stringent -- are more commonly known by the groups that answer their phones: Common Cause and CalPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group. The conspicuous timing of the two events caused grumbling reporters and cameramen to rush from the county complex on Bradshaw Road to the Capitol lawn. The timing also gives readers a hint of the intense rivalry that has arisen between the groups.Both initiatives have very detailed limitations that vary depending on the type of election. In general, the Common Cause initiative would reward candidates who agree to limit spending by doubling the maximum contribution they can receive from individuals. "The U.S. Supreme Court says you can't have spending limits, but you can have voluntary limits as long as you have an incentive," said Ruth Holton of California Common Cause, referring to a 1975 court ruling. Meanwhile, the CalPIRG initiative would place stringent controls on contributions from corporations and individuals as well as total campaign spending. It would require that 75 percent of funds be raised from within the electoral district -- whereas about 90 percent currently comes from outside sources, according to CalPIRG. Although the group is months behind Common Cause, it still hopes to qualify with the required 433,000 valid signatures by April. "Leadership of this new movement is still emerging, and we expect it to be broadly representative of the citizens of California, and firmly in place by the date the signatures are turned in," said the group's Mary Raftery in a prepared statement.Common Cause is joined by the League of Women Voters of California, Ross Perot's United We Stand America and the American Association of Retired People (AARP). CalPIRG, meanwhile, claims the support of more than 200 groups (local groups around the state) and prominent individuals, including 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson, 1992 candidate Jerry Brown, the publisher of Mother Jones magazine, and local activists such as Jeanie Keltner. Raftery said her group hopes to overturn the 1975 court ruling, calling it the root of the system's problems. "We believe there is a good chance that we can overturn it," she said.If both initiatives win a majority, but the CalPIRG version gets more votes, it contains a clause that Holton describes as a "poison pill:" Even if the initiative is subsequently struck down in court, it would knock out its Common Cause competitor.

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