Skelton: An opportunity to curb legal corruption

The most shameful habit of California legislators arguably is their annual summer shakedown of lobbyists. But it finally may be ending, at least in the Senate.

Senate leaders — rocked by the corruption scandals of two fellow Democrats — are hoping to quash the unsavory practice of coercing campaign contributions from special interests while high-stakes bills are pending in the Capitol.

Outgoing leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and his designated replacement, Sen. Kevin de Le?, D-Los Angeles, intend to push for a Senate rule banning peak-session fundraising, according to sources who asked not to be identified because they aren't ready to officially announce the landmark move.

Tentatively, the plan is to black out fundraising starting in late May, when budget negotiations kick into high gear, until the harried end of the legislative session around Labor Day. The ban would be lifted during a four-week vacation recess in July.

"We want to stop people from raising money when they should be focused on the public's business," one source says.

That reason is good enough. But there's also a more important one: PR. The current system portrays an ugly image and emits a rotten stench.

When a legislator leaves a Capitol committee room or house chamber where he has been casting deciding votes — with many more to come — and walks across the street to a watering hole to hold a fundraiser attended by lobbyists, it just plain stinks.

But it has been happening for decades.

August is notorious. There may be a dozen fundraisers scheduled each day the Legislature is in session, acting on hundreds of bills within hours.

It's legal corruption.

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