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Conan the Reformer

The San Diego Union-Tribune SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Politics >reports,

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a plan yesterday that aims to clean up government by banning fund raising during budget deliberations and taking redistricting away from the Legislature.

Schwarzenegger, who began his campaign for governor promising to reform politics, said his proposals are aimed at restoring public confidence.

"For democracy to be strong, we must bring trust back to government," the actor said at a news conference yesterday.

A campaign finance expert, Jim Knox of California Common Cause, endorsed some of the proposals. But he said Schwarzenegger appears to favor corporate interests because he calls unions and Indian tribes "special interests," but excludes businesses.

"It undermines his credibility as a political reformer," Knox said. "It certainly implies that he's not for reforms that apply equally."

Schwarzenegger said he was in favor of banning fund-raising while the budget is under negotiation, a process that normally stretches from January through July. Some reform advocates, however, say the period with more potential corruption is the end of the legislative session, when the fate of hundreds of bills is uncertain. Lawmakers hold dozens of fund-raisers during that time.

Schwarzenegger also endorsed a constitutional amendment that would enhance California's open-meeting laws and prohibit the long-standing practice of "gut and amend," which allows bills to be completely rewritten and passed without public hearing or comment.

Knox of Common Cause said Schwarzenegger "had some good ideas, but they don't go far enough" because the Republican rejects public financing of campaigns.

Schwarzenegger's best idea, Knox said, was a redistricting process that would have required appellate court justices to redraw legislative districts every 10 years, making them competitive.

With lawmakers determining the lines, districts are carved out to protect incumbents, both Democrats and Republicans.

In contrast to Schwarzenegger, Bustamante endorsed public financing but said he didn't think voters would support it.