Once upon a time in Sacramento, it was routine for legislators to wine and dine at Frank Fat's or Posey's Cottage, and equally routine for lobbyists to pick up the tab.
There also were social gatherings with names such as the Derby Club, which met at Posey's, and Moose Milk, at the old El Mirador Hotel, where the two groups hobnobbed together, ate and drank at lobbyists' expense and engaged in wheeling and dealing, all out of the public eye, sometimes stumbling back to work in a boozy fog.
In his biography of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, James Richardson, a onetime Bee political reporter, described the gatherings as "important and discreet marketplaces of political power."
They were decidedly male enclaves and, as Richardson wrote, safe havens where votes could be traded, friendships formed, feelings soothed and campaign contributions promised.
Then, in 1974, everything changed. A young politician named Edmund G. Brown Jr., son of the former governor, parlayed his famous name and his support for campaign reform into his first of two terms as governor, declaring that he intended to lead a government beyond reproach.
That same year 1974 voters also gave overwhelmingly approval to a ballot measure backed by Brown, Proposition 9, which was supposed to crack down once and for all on reporting of campaign contributions and curtail the influence of lobbyists on the legislative process.
It imposed all sorts of reporting requirements and promised that "the activity of those who lobby the state Legislature" would be regulated "to prevent improper influence on public officials."
Other reform efforts followed, culminating in 2000 with passage of Proposition 34, which limited direct contributions to candidates, expanded disclosure requirements and prohibited lobbyists from giving directly to elected officials they lobby.
So how's that working out?
One could easily make the argument that the pre-Proposition 9 days produced a better Legislature because at least Democrats and Republicans, feeding at the same lobbyist trough, socialized together and actually worked out compromises, sometimes even in the public interest.
There were no term limits. People such as Willie Brown and, before him, Jesse Unruh, held power and knew how to wield it. By the same token, there was no question that special interests through their lobbying clout had an unhealthy influence on the legislative process.
And the special interest influence? It's still there. And so is the money. Since voters limited direct contributions in that 2000 election, big donors and other special interests have increasingly used independent committees, unhampered by limits, to spend millions of dollars on behalf of candidates.
Although lobbyists can no longer hand out contributions directly, there is nothing to stop them from seeing that their clients funnel money and favors to legislators in the never-ending effort in the Capitol to influence the outcome of legislation.
There also remains a loophole, as Bee reporter Laurel Rosenhall documented last Sunday, which allows interest groups to hire former politicians or state officials, including Willie Brown and former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, as consultants with virtually no financial disclosure.
As Rosenhall pointed out, there are nearly 1,400 registered lobbyists in Sacramento who are subject to registration with the state and face the stiff rules that originated with Proposition 9 on gift giving and campaign contributions. All this is a matter of public record.
None of this applies to consultants who advise clients on navigating state government but avoid meeting the legal definition of lobbying. These are influence-peddlers who have good Capitol contacts and work behind the scenes, unfettered by reporting requirements.
But campaign reform of any kind has virtually dropped off the radar in the climate of economic uncertainty and ongoing state budget crises. It's no longer high on Jerry Brown's agenda, now that he has returned to the governor's office after a 30-year hiatus and has other problems commanding his attention.
There was a time when reformers believed public financing was at least one answer, but that is no longer a viable option. A ballot measure that included a system of public funding for legislative races passed by a narrow margin in 1988 but was overridden by a competing measure that specifically prohibited the use of public money.
Then, in 2006, Proposition 89 would have set up a system of voluntary public funding, financed by a 0.2 percent increase in the income tax for corporations and financial institutions. Candidates could either take the public money or continue to raise contributions on their own. More than 70 percent of the voters said no to it.
Neither would public financing do much to curb the influence of special interests since the courts have given political action committees carte blanche to spend freely.
As for the consultants-cum-lobbyists, Robert Stern, who was one of the authors of Proposition 9 in 1974, said he regrets that tighter controls on consultants hired as political strategists were not included in that measure.
"If I were doing it over again," Stern told Rosenhall, "I would certainly include those (expenditures on consultants) to be itemized." But at the time Proposition 9 was drafted, the use of consultants was not evident as an issue. That's also how loopholes are born.