By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

California Watch, a new investigative reporting service, told us the other day that California politicians and campaign contributors “have routinely funneled money through county-level political party committees … avoiding strict limits on campaign giving and hiding the source of millions in donations.”

California Watch didn’t tell us, however, that laundering campaign money to disguise its source is exactly what state legislators intended when they wrote Proposition 34 a decade ago.

Its “strict limits” were designed to give the appearance of reform while encouraging money-laundering and so-called “independent expenditures” so that candidates wouldn’t be accountable to voters for their sources of campaign funds.

Proposition 34, moreover, was specifically drafted (in secret) to overturn a campaign fund limits initiative, enacted by voters, that politicians and lobbyists disliked because it interfered with the traditional way in which the former hit up the latter for campaign money and the latter influence the former.

It’s doubly, or perhaps triply, ironic that California Watch quoted Ross Johnson, chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, as being outraged that money was being funneled through parties’ local central committees to get around Proposition 34’s limits on direct campaign contributions.

“I’m all for strong political parties, but it ought not be an opportunity for an end run around the contribution limits that the people thought they were enacting,” Johnson told California Watch.

Say what? Johnson was one of the major drafters of Proposition 34 as a Republican state senator and was fully aware, as critics were pointing out at the time, that the measure would facilitate money-laundering through political parties and the polite fiction of “independent expenditures.”

As the measure was making its way to the ballot, Capitol politicians and lobbyists were already figuring out how they could continue their commerce without any material hindrance – with the bonus of being able to hide the source of money from voters and the media.

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