Sunday, September 24, 2006

Money flows from corporations to politics

By STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer
Associated Press
September 20, 2006

The flow of campaign donations of $5,000 or more to candidates and ballot measures has increased significantly since 2001, adding to the political clout of wealthy contributors, supporters of a campaign finance-reform initiative said Wednesday.

"The people being represented are those people who can afford the $5,000 checks, and that's not the average Californian," said Ned Wigglesworth, a spokesman for California Common Cause, a political reform group.

Common Cause and the California Nurses Association held a news conference to release a study done by the nurses association. It found that state candidates and ballot measure campaigns raised $1.7 billion in donations of $5,000 or more from 2001 to May 20 of this year.

Those donations added up to more than $100 million in 2001, $266 million in 2002, $174 million in 2003, $441 million in 2004 and $625 million in 2005, when interest groups fought over a series of ballot measures in a special election called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Just more than a quarter of the money came in contributions from Sacramento County, where many corporations, labor unions and associations that lobby at the Capitol have offices.

The biggest single contribution — $14.2 million from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — was made to the campaign opposing Proposition 79, an unsuccessful 2005 initiative that attempted to force drug companies to provide discounts to the poor.

Multimillion dollar donations from Indian tribes, individual drug companies, the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association were also among the 20 biggest found by the study.

Proposition 89, which is on the Nov. 7 ballot, would impose a series of tougher limits on campaign contributions. It also would authorize public financing for candidates who raise a certain amount of $5 donations to demonstrate public support and then agree to give up most other private contributions.

Supporters say the initiative would weaken the political clout of big campaign contributors, but opponents complain it would stifle the voices of corporations.

"I don't think we have ever made the argument that there are not problems with the current system," said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Proposition 89's opponents.

"We're saying that Proposition 89 ... creates an even bigger mess by creating an even more uneven playing field by limiting what some people can contribute but not what other people can contribute."

She referred to a provision of the initiative that would allow a corporation to donate no more than $10,000 to a ballot measure campaign from its treasury.

Proposition 89 opponents say that limit would hurt small companies as well as big ones.

Chuck Idelson, a spokesman for the nurses association, said that contribution limit was justified by a series of huge corporate donations that raise the possibility of political corruption.

"There is a record there that we believe provides a basis for attempting to crack down on what has been an abuse of the initiative process," he said.

Corporations could still make unlimited contributions to ballot measures, but they would have to do so by forming political action committees and raising campaign money from their officers and employees, much like labor unions do from their members, Idelson said.

"What we are saying is (it) will create a level playing field," he added.

And, the Sacramento Bee opposes Prop. 89.
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