If Virginia was the cradle of the Confederacy, then California is the undisputed national hotbed of political causes. The citizens' movement to cut taxes, which has dominated the nation's public agenda and political debate for the past 10 years, began with California's Proposition 13 in 1978.

Last Tuesday Los Angeles voters may well have made political history when they adopted a single city charter reform that imposed a tough ethics code, established public financing of municipal elections, and gave Los Angeles city council members a 40 percent pay raise. Let's hope those Los Angeles returns are read by some of the spineless wonders on Capitol Hill. Just maybe when the congressional shillyshallyers learn that real, live voters are willing to tax themselves to clean up a corrupt political system dominated by private money, then Congress might still miraculously get its own vertebrae transplant.

The Los Angeles charter reform was no cosmetically designed sleeper to confuse or mislead voters. The proposal was energetically debated, and the Los Angeles Daily News editorially attacked the pay raise provisions on almost a daily basis. West side Los Angeles city council member Zev Yaroslavsky, a high-profile Democratic liberal, used his own political funds to run radio commercials against the proposed reform. Opponents, including Yaroslavsky, branded the proposal a "fraud {which will cost you millions . . . a pay raise for politicians masquerading as reform."

But the reformers, led by Los Angeles attorney and former California Common Cause chairman Jeff Cowan, made a more compelling case. The reform, which raises the pay of city council members from $61,000 to $85,000 a year, bans any and all outside earned income. Tough disclosure requirements are imposed. Citywide officials are prohibited from receiving any gifts from anyone doing or wanting to do any business with the city. A strict revolving-door provision prohibits any lobbying with any part of the city government for a full year after leaving office. Book deals of the sort favored by a number of Washington lawmakers are specifically outlawed. As for teeth, the Los Angeles reform establishes an independent commission to enforce the provisions and the clout of an independent prosecutor.

To rebut the anti-pay raise argument the Cowan allies pointed out that to qualify for mortgage financing on a median-priced Los Angeles home required an annual salary of $73,000 -- $12,000 less than city council members were earning. Cowan put it this way: "If you don't like your city council member, get rid of him or her. But please don't cut the salary of everybody in public office just to express your dissatisfaction with one or two individual officials."

That argument apparently worked. So, too, did the public financing features, which opposed tough spending limits while providing matching public funds for individual contributions up to a maximum of $250. As a condition for receiving matching public funds, a Los Angeles candidate must agree to participate in candidate debates. Now, that's a sensible provision we could well use at the federal level.

Los Angeles voters deserve credit for dealing maturely and forcefully with the special interest influence and corrupting money chase which afflict and infect American public life. The nation owes the voters of Los Angeles a debt of thanks for their leadership. Congress owes the nation action on campaign finance reform.