Capitalizing on the Watergate political scandal, then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown ran for governor in 1974 as an advocate of political reform.
A key to Brown’s ultimately successful run was a ballot measure, Proposition 9, that he contended would reduce the influence of special interests in the state Capitol.
The Political Reform Act created the Fair Political Practices Commission, tightened conflict-of-interest, campaign finance reporting and lobbyist reporting laws, required politicians to disclose personal economic interests, and limited wining and dining of politicians.
Since returning to the governorship after a 28-year hiatus, however, Brown has been somewhat disdainful of shining more light on politicians’ financial dealings, often vetoing reform bills.
One victim of Brown’s much-changed attitude has been an effort to tighten up reportage of politicians’ personal incomes and investments.
Proposition 9 required disclosure of income only in broad brackets – sources of income over $1,000 and $10,000 a year, and investments over $10,000 and over $100,000.
Six years later, in 1980, Brown signed legislation to slightly alter the income and investment brackets, without raising the upper levels. In 2000, however, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed updates, requiring reportage of investments more than $1 million and incomes over $100,000 a year.
However, time once again eroded the validity of those numbers, and in 2012, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, carried legislation to once again realign the brackets to reality. But by then, Brown was back in the governorship and rejected his bill, even though it had sailed through the Legislature without a dissenting vote.
“The law already requires public officials to disclose their income and investments with enough particularity so that conflicts of interest can be identified,” Brown said. “I am not convinced that this bill will provide more useful information to the public.”
Brown used almost identical language three years later as he vetoed a bill to update conflict-of-interest provisions.
Portantino is now a state senator and is carrying a new version of his 2012 bill that Brown vetoed.
Senate Bill 24 would create eight investment brackets, topping out at more than $10 million, and 10 income brackets ranging up to more than $10 million. It was approved Tuesday by the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.
When Brown rejected several bills that stemmed from corruption scandals in the state Senate a few years ago, it spurred sharp criticism from Bob Stern, who as an aide to Brown wrote much of Proposition 9 and later became the state’s leading political reform expert.
“As a reformer,” Stern wrote in a 2014 op-ed piece, “he was innovative and persistent, and railed against a Legislature that wouldn’t enact his reform bills. As governor, he now has become the roadblock to meaningful reforms passed by the Legislature.”
SB 24 could be a new test of Brown’s appetite for shining more light on the political process.