- The state's Political Reform Act of 1974, which requires
public officials and others to disclose campaign contributions
and possible conflicts of interest, is so complex and burdensome
that it badly needs reform itself, according to a report released
today (Wednesday, July 12).
from the Bipartisan Commission on the Political Reform Act
of 1974 concludes that legislators should greatly simplify
the statute or risk maintaining a system that is unfair to
ordinary citizens interested in public service.
of California, Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies
served as the commission's research arm. And a UC Berkeley
law professor, Jesse Choper, was one of the 14 commissioners
who worked on the report. The report's findings now go on
to the California Legislature for review and possible action.
the committee made 35 recommendations, including the following:
report, however, focused primarily on the matter of fairness
and the need to simplify the 26-year-old act.
present state," the report contends, "the Political Reform
Act is overly complex and unduly burdensome to many persons
who want to lawfully participate in the political system.
Reform Act is in serious need of amendments that would simplify
the Act and its implementation, lessen the expense and burden
of complying with the Act, and make enforcement of the Act
more fair and reasonable to many persons who use reasonable
diligence but nonetheless violate some of its provisions."
a constitutional law expert and former dean of UC Berkeley's
School of Law (Boalt Hall), said the commission's role was
to take a narrow look at how the 1974 statute is operating.
He joined the commission because he considers the overall
issue a crucial one.
of campaign finance, generally, is one of a handful of the
most important issues in terms of the future of the democratic
system," Choper said. "We all know that it is virtually impossible
to get elected to any significant office without lots of money,
and we all know how lots of money influences how people operate."
Reform Act, considered one of the toughest in the nation,
provides for extensive disclosure of campaign and lobby finances;
public officials' financial interests; and complex protections
against conflicts of interest.
Institute of Governmental Studies analyzed more than 500 cases
and actions brought before the state's Fair Political Practices
Commission (FPPC), the agency that enforces the act. In addition,
the institute held several focus group sessions, interviewing
journalists, candidates and campaign managers.
the institute's director, said the study and commission report
are especially important because disclosure is California's
only form of campaign finance reform. There are no limits
on campaign contributions or expenditure limits in California.
Such measures have been passed by voters, he said, but struck
down by the courts.
the first significant report in a quarter century that really
looks at disclosure seriously and really thinks about disclosure,"
said Cain. "We should be doing more studies and have more
detailed information on how disclosure works."
the findings that most interested the institute included the
report especially was concerned with enforcement actions against
local public officials who made simple filing errors. In fact,
the Institute of Governmental Studies found that new politicians,
seasoned campaign managers and even the institute's professors
and students made errors on the disclosure forms, which Cain
likens to federal income tax forms and schedules.
thing is that the (financial disclosure) forms are not trivial,"
said Cain. "You want to have reporting, but you don't want
it to be so onerous and burdensome that it discourages your
average Joe from running for city council. You don't want
it to have a chilling effect."
commission study was approved by former Gov. Pete Wilson as
the act approached its 25th anniversary. Various legislative
leaders and the FPPC appointed the commissioners, which included
former lawmakers, former FPPC commissioners, political consultants,
attorneys, a retired lobbyist and others. Jesse Choper was
Wilson's Democratic appointee to the commission.
report will be posted on the Institute of Governmental Studies'
Web site (www.igs.berkeley.edu)
within a week of its release.