Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, whose job requires that he raise millions for Senate Democratic campaigns, said today that Republican operative-turned academic Dan Schnur has the "nub of a good idea" for limiting fundraising.
Schnur is urging lawmakers to restrict fundraising when the Legislature is in session, which in California translates to roughly nine months each year.
Schnur, who teaches at USC and worked for Sen. John McCain during his 2000 presidential campaign, has said he might seek to place an initiative on the ballot to restrict fundraising if legislators balk, which they almost surely will do.
But in a visit to The Bee's editorial board, Steinberg said he had met with Schnur and found his idea appealing.
The senate leader noted that he liked a city ordinance when he was on the Sacramento City Council that restricted the money members could raise during off-election years. That forced council members to focus on policy, not politics, during off years.
"There is a nub of a good idea there," Steinberg said. "I think it would be hard to get it through [the Legislature]. But I support the idea of limiting off-year fund-raising."
There is, however, "a catch." In the Senate, he noted, there are no "off years," at least not for the leader. Steinberg is raising money for the third special election campaign to fill senate seats this year. The current fight is for a Kern-Kings-Tulare county seat vacated by Michael Rubio, who quit the senate to take a job at Chevron.
On a related matter, Steinberg said the FBI investigation into Sen. Ron Calderon, a San Gabriel Valley Democrat, is not changing the way he operates the upper house.
"I lead the senate in a very ethical way," Steinberg said. He added that he has not urged Calderon to alter how he goes about his business. "I have not talked to Sen. Calderon about anything related to these matters."
On another matter, Steinberg said he was "open" to revising the Legislative Open Records Act, which exempts lawmakers from complying with the public records act laws that apply to other public officials. He said there are security concerns with opening up legislative calendars. Of course, calendars could be released after the fact.
On the topic of openness, Steinberg said lawmakers should "strive" to have budget bills in print for three days before they're voted upon, and that the Legislature is more transparent now than it was in past years.
Responding to a question from our own Pia Lopez, Steinberg said others who criticize the three-day rule have a point when they contend that lobbyists would use the waiting period to mobilize and cause the Legislature to grind to a halt.
"I know it doesn't read well. But there is some truth to that," Steinberg said.
Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg takes a question from political cartoonist Jack Ohman, possibly the only member of the The Bee's editorial board to own a nice suit. Photo by Stuart Leavenworth.