10/07/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2014

Jerry Brown Closes His Final Campaign for Governor as He Began His First


Locked on trajectory for a big win in his bid for an historic fourth term as governor of California, Jerry Brown is ending his last campaign for the office as he began his first some 40 years ago. He is running a campaign to promote an initiative drive to better the state.

Now it is Proposition and Proposition 2, the $7.5 billion water bond measure and the state's rainy day fund.

Forty years ago, it was Proposition 9, the Political Reform Act of 1974. Prop 9, which then California Secretary of State Brown sponsored with the late People's Lobby, brought the beginnings of order to California's Wild West of campaign finance and influence peddling.

In this early ad for his 2010 campaign, Jerry Brown harkened back to the future of his first bid for and go-round as governor of California, which included a 1974 initiative drive to reform politics.

There's more to Brown running on initiative democracy than humanitarianism, of course. Brown after all is the fellow who, upon reading a long ago book idea of mine called Outriders, about against-the-grain folks I've known, said he liked it fine. He had only one suggestion. Lose the "s" in the title.

Propelled by Brown's championing of the measure amidst a pervasive Watergate era of popular disdain for a corrupt and dysfunctional political system, Prop 9 triumphed in June 1974 with 70 percent of the vote. The synergy of it all helped cement Brown's positioning as a reformer and anti-hack Democrat, as Brown cruised to an easy '74 primary win in a multi-candidate field with 38 percent to then San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto's 19 percent and Angeleno Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti's 17 percent.

Prop 9 required detailed reporting of campaign fundraising and spending in all state and local campaigns. Its financial disclosure provisions for would-be officials were accompanied by prohibitions against conflicts of interest. Lobbyists were required to register and disclose their clients and financial arrangements, and were prohibited from contributing to campaigns. Lobbyists were also prohibited from the then routine practice of wining and dining legislators. Financial limits were established for state campaigns and a state fair political practices commission to oversee regulation was established.

Later, two essential elements, campaign spending limits and the ban on lobbyist contributions, were thrown out by the courts.

Political money, like water, generally finds its way to the sea. But there are decided improvements.

The old Senator Hotel across from the Capitol, where Brown insisted on holding his final gubernatorial debate last month, was once the headquarters for Boss Artie Samish, who used its rather splendid environs to pass out cash and stage bacchanals for compliant legislators the kingpin of California string pullers before the Browns came to town in the 1950s. Now it's office and studio space.

Brown goes into this final phase of his final campaign for governor with nearly $24 million in his gubernatorial campaign accounts and more than $6 million in a new account for Props 1 and 2. His Republican opponent, former Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari, has less than $700,000.

Both Props 1 and 2, passed in the legislature on Brown-orchestrated bipartisan votes, lead in the polls. The rainy day fund is under 50 percent in one public poll, though other polling shows the concept of putting money in a reserve during flush times to combat California's boom-and-bust budgeting history to be popular.

While both Props 1 and 2 are reworked versions of measures championed and pushed through the legislature by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, they also represent ideas championed in the past by Brown.

Indeed, it was Brown's establishing a de facto rainy day fund during his first term as governor that helped trigger Proposition 13. Liberals wanted to spend the billions Brown stockpiled -- without constitutional strictures limiting its spending -- while conservatives seized on it as a rationale to cut property taxes.

I have a feeling this scenario is going to turn out better for Brown, and for California.

William Bradley Archive