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Face it: Fundraising and legislating just don't mix

Want to spend a lovely weekend at your “own private ocean front” gazing at the sunset near Point Reyes? How about fly fishing up near Mt. Lassen? Or maybe you'd prefer watching the Clippers play the Pacers at Staples Center or getting in a round of golf at Escena Golf Club in Palm Springs? There is, of course, a catch. You'd have to donate $1,000 to $6,800, and spend time with Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, Board of Equalization member George Runner, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell or Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez.

Into the ever-more-aggressive business of campaign fundraising steps Dan Schnur, former operative-turned-reformer-turned-academic, with a brainstorm intended to curtail the practice, or at least one aspect of it. Schnur's concept: bar legislators and other state officeholders from raising money while the Legislature is in session. He hopes statewide candidates will embrace the idea and that legislators will agree to some form of restriction on their own.

If that doesn't happen — and it won't — he is contemplating raising money on his own for an initiative intended for the 2014 ballot.

There's much to criticize about Schnur's proposal. In reality, fundraising would continue though in other ways. Legislators probably would cede more fundraising duties to political parties, while interest groups would rely even more on increasingly dominant independent campaign committees. But something needs to change.

Legislators have been in session for three months this year and have done little work of any significance other than raise money and give access to their donors. They held no fewer than 30 fundraisers between Feb. 26 and March 20. Sen. Ted Gaines, D-Roseville, held two, one of which was a day skiing at Squaw Valley.

The big rush always occurs in the final weeks of the session in the fall when legislators vote on hundreds of bills and interrupt legislative sessions to scurry across L Street to Chops, Chicory and other fundraising venues to pick up checks. Incumbents and candidates raised no less than $6 million in the last two weeks of the legislative session last year — all of it as legislators decided the fate of bills that directly affected their contributors.

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