Frankly, in the past when Assemblywoman Loni Hancock's legislation to provide publicly financed state and legislative campaigns came up, we never thought it stood a chance.

But last week, we were pleasantly surprised to see the latest bill pass the Assembly. This is the first time it has made it this far.

Modeled after laws in Arizona, Maine and Connecticut, the legislation would set up a voluntary system of campaign financing. Candidates, who would raise small contributions and agree not to take funding from special interests, would receive public money for their campaigns.

"The public has lost faith in its elected officials. The cost of implementing this program pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing," said Hancock, D-Berkeley. She believes that scandals in Washington and polling numbers in California show that voters are unhappy with the way things are going.

The bill had to clear two Assembly committees and the full House, on a 47-26 vote, strictly along party lines. Next it goes to the state Senate. If approved, AB 583 also would have to be signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then it would be placed on the ballot for the state's voters to finalize.

It still has a ways to go. Even if it gets to Schwarzenegger — who has yet to take a stand — it would face tough opposition from Republicans, who say the bill is flawed and would be no more successful in curbing special-interest influence in politics than other approved campaign-finance reforms.


Hancock's bill is sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign, the California Nurses Association, the League of Women Voters, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Sierra Club.

If the proposal bill fails this time, nurses association president Deborah Burger said her group has begun a petition drive to place it on the November ballot.

Burger sees the initiative as the only way to break the stranglehold that drug companies, HMOs and hospitals have on state politics. She said that, without such legislation, "We will never be able to assure universal coverage and a single standard of care for all."

Bill Magavern of the Sierra Club said, "If the voters of California want clean water and clean air, we've got to get clean money in the system."

Susan Lerner of the California Clean Money Campaign said, "Not only does it help control the costs of campaigning and give new people of modest means the ability to run for office, but it also strengthens government accountability and trust in government by eliminating the perception that public policy decisions are made on a 'pay to play basis.'"

We hope with these twin tracks going for it that Hancock's measure will become law. It would be a refreshing change for California.