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Political Reform Act 40th Anniversary | Politics

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Political Reform Act 40th Anniversary
Political Reform Act 40th Anniversary

Sacramento -- 1974 is an infamous year when the Watergate scandal brought down Richard Nixon's presidency exposing extreme corruption in politics, government, elected officials and their cronies.  

Desiring a transparent government, California's lawmakers enacted the Political Reform Act of 1974 creating the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) that, according to current Chairperson Jodi Remke, "focuses meaningful reform through smart, effective disclosure" of political contributions, expenditures and lobbying.

To commemorate this landmark legislation's 40th anniversary, UOP's McGeorge School of Law sponsored an extensive group of legal panelists to discuss political reform issues and accomplishments titled, "A Dynamic Look at the Past, Present and Future."  Organizing this informative event is The Capital Center for Public Law and Policy.

Chairperson Remke says, "It's in the best interests of the public to have timely, vital information on the FPPC website so voters know who is funding candidates. 

"In the past five years," she points out, "the FPPC prosecuted more cases than in the 35 years prior.

"We keep the political world as ethical as possible!" 


A Look Back at the Political Reform Act

John Burton, Chair of the California Democratic Party (and former Assembly Member and Senator), entertained the packed audience at McGeorge's Lecture Hall with stories of politics and lobbying prior to enactment of the Political Reform Act of 1974.  Flashbacks include quid-pro-quo drink exchanges (you buy me one... I buy you one back), agreements written on cocktail napkins and elaborate "non-profit" vacations for politicians sponsored by lobbyists.  

"Many people were ethically challenged," recalls Burton. "Jerry Brown was a major force behind Proposition 9" establishing the Political Reform Act in 1974.

Tom Houston, FPPC Chairman 1979-1983 and Chief of Staff to L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, says, "A few bad apples tilt the system from Honest Graft versus Bad Graft.  Personal use of campaign funds was rampant. Now they must be held in a constructive trust.

"Today, there's highly visible enforcement of cases for egregious conduct," comments Houston.

Greg Lucas, California State Librarian and former San Francisco Chronicle reporter, adds, "99% [of elected officials and lobbyists] are honest and sincerely here for the good of California and its people." 


The Act in Present Day

Erin Peth, FPPC Executive Director, McGeorge Professor Mary-Beth Moylan and Karen Getman, former FPPC Chair 1999-2003, discuss these most challenging issues in Political Reform today:

  • Regulating political speech versus the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment Right to Free Speech;
  • Money invested in politics and educating the electorate through sensible regulation;
  • Better use of technology with information already collected through Sunshine Laws;
  • Posting a "Top 10 Donor List" for the upcoming November election;
  • Current limits on media's ability to investigate and research political input;
  • Smart disclosures to find out where campaign money is coming from before voting; and
  • Determine how independent expenditures affect California elections after U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United that gives strong support for permissive, robust and unregulated political speech.  


The Future of the Act... Disclosure versus Contribution Limits


Jessica Levinson, Professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and Vice President of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission and William R. Maurer, Managing Attorney for the Washington Office of the Institute for Justice, discuss these powerful aspects of Political Reform in our future:  

  • Power of Corporations over Power of the People -- where is the U.S. Supreme Court headed after its decision in Citizens United ?  Are justices happy with the outcome?  Are they hostile to campaign finance restrictions or in favor of robust political speech?  
  • Has the Citizens United  ruling created "dark money" -- often large amounts of money contributed to campaigns from Political Action Committees (PACs) avoiding identities of specific individual donors?
  • Are we in a new world with avoidance of disclosure laws through unlimited expenditures from PACs?
  • What legal and practical problems are created since corporations are now deemed to be "people" regarding campaign contributions?
  • Are there serious privacy issues with disclosure requirements for each individual who must disclose complete identity and address, including their employer's identity and address, when making even small campaign contributions? and
  • Is quid-pro-quo corruption the only limit now on political expenditures?

"People don't want their name and address, including their employer's name and address, on an Internet database," Maurer says.  "Disclosure laws create an enormous disincentive, especially for grass-roots people and small donors.

"What needs to be disclosed?  This unhinged reaction to Citizens United is worse than the IRS," says Maurer.

Levinson comments, "Money influences the political system in many ways.  The Internet changes everything in campaign speech.  How will the younger generation get campaign information and decide how to vote?"

Maurer adds, "We don't want government to be bought by the highest bidder.  Money facilitates political speech and how far a voice will carry."

Levinson questions, "Should a listener's interests be more heavily weighed [than a political speaker's]? The drawing out effect is the same people hear the same message.  Is this undue influence and corruption?"

Maurer concludes, "Undue influence is worrisome to incumbents" who fear unregulated PAC spending may defeat them in reelections.


The Capital Center Lecture Series 

The next event is December 10, 2014, 5 p.m. at Sacramento's Sutter Club titled "Picking Cotton -- A Presentation on Injustice and Redemption."