Debt Consolidation

Prop 212's Repeal of California's Ethics Laws

Posted on: June 17, 2008
Written by: UWSA Staff

Home | CPR | Why 208? | What's in 208 | Opinions | Our Campaign | The Threat to Reform


Prop 212's Repeal of California's Ethics Laws

"Prop 212, if adopted, would rip to shreds one of the toughest ethics laws in the nation."
Tony Miller,
Former Acting California Secretary of State


Prop 212 would repeal current gift and honoraria limits

In three short sections, Prop 212 repeals California's current limits on gifts, travel, and honoraria which could be given to elected and appointed officials. These limits are commonly known as the "Ethics in Government Act of 1990" and were put in place by Prop 112.

Prop 212 would eliminate the ban on honoraria now imposed on local elected officials, members of boards and commissions, certain key government employees, and political candidates. It would also repeal the $250 per-year limit on gifts from single sources which applies to all elected and appointed officials, candidates, board and commission members, and specified government employees.

If Prop 212 were to pass, anyone (except lobbyists) could give any amount of money to California elected and appointed officials. This money could come from individuals, PACs, corporations, unions, or any other source and would go straight into the official's pockets, not to their campaign.

This repeal of the gift limits would have a profound corrupting influence on California politicians. The LA Daily Journal called these limits "an anti-corruption cornerstone of the Political Reform Act." (Measure Repeals Limits on Political Gifts, LA Daily Journal 6/19/96) One only has to look back to 1989, before the gift and honoraria limits were put in place. California legislators received over $1 million dollars a year in the form of gifts and honoraria. A dozen individuals were convicted for abuse of the gift and honoraria system that was then in place.

Things get even worse. Because of Prop 212's "poison pill" provision, it would kill the gift and honoraria limits even if it got fewer votes than Prop 208!

Prop 212 Would Effectively Invalidate Campaign Finance and Disclosure Laws

Prop 212's repeal of the gift and honorarium limits would provide an easy means to get around almost all campaign finance and disclosure laws, even those contained within Prop 212. While Prop 212 claims to tighten the rules on campaign contributions, its true effect would be the exact opposite.

This is most clearly seen with contribution limits. Sponsors of Prop 212 claim that it would impose $100 contribution limits to legislative candidates. However, repeal of the gift and honoraria limits means that any individual or group could give a candidate a cash gift or "speaking fee" of any amount. The candidate could then contribute that money to his or her own campaign, thereby circumventing the contribution limits. What's more, the gift would not have to be reported until the following year, making this transaction invisible to the public before the election.

This is even worse than the current situation where contributions are unlimited but at least reported in a timely manner.

Sponsors of Prop 212 Offer a Ridiculous Rational for the Repeal

The sponsors of Prop 212 claim that they seek to repeal the Ethics in Government Act in order to "force the legislature to go back and make it stronger". This rational is clearly ridiculous.

If the sponsors of Prop 212 had wanted to tighten the limits on gifts, why didn't they just include stronger provisions in the initiative at hand? Also, why repeal the current ban on honoraria? What could be stronger than a total ban? The fact is if you really want strong limits on gifts and honoraria, you don't leave it up to the legislature. When the Ethics in Government Act was originally put in place it took an FBI sting and a ballot initiative to do it. Repealing these laws goes against the expressed wishes of the California electorate.

Voter Deception?

You may wonder how an initiative that repeals one of California's most popular laws ever reached the ballot. The fact is that the sponsors of Prop 212 managed to keep this provision a secret for almost 8 months. They buried the repeal deep in a 30 page document and told no one (including their own workers) about it. The Attorney General failed to mention the repeal in his official summary, and thousands of voters unwittingly signed the Prop 212 petitions.

When we discovered the gift limit repeal and broke the story, we assumed that the gift limit repeal was a drafting error. However the Prop 212 sponsors claimed that they did this intentionally. They called the gift limits "window dressing" and stated that our raising this issue was a "frivolous attack on [their] initiative." We don't see how repealing a law passed by 62% of the voters is frivolous, but you can be the judge of this.

We at CPR attempted to have Prop 212 removed from the ballot based on the failure to inform petition signers of this major provision. Unfortunately, the court ruled that we were too late.

We did accomplish a couple of things though. In bringing our complaint, we managed to get the Attorney General to modify the official Prop 212 title and summary so that it now discusses the gift and honoraria limit repeal. Also, we generated some press coverage of this issue, including some editorial comment.

Even after all this, the sponsors of Prop 212 still tried to stonewall. They unsuccessfully sued the Attorney General to get the title and summary back to its original form. Seems that they just don't want the public to know what is really in their initiative.

Please Help Us Inform the Public

Though we have managed to get word of Prop 212's repeal of the gift and honoraria limits into both the press and the ballot pamphlet, we can't be sure that this is enough. Sponsors of Prop 212 have committed to spending over $1 million to campaign for their initiative and they certainly aren't going to mention the repeal. Some people will be fooled.

If you have read this far, you are one of the few people who understands what Prop 212 would really do. Please tell your friends and family about the stealth provision in Prop 212 and why it represents a threat to reform in California.

We will continue to do all we can. But ours is a bare-bones campaign and we are struggling to raise funds for any kind of advertising. We depend on word-of-mouth voter education by concerned citizens. Please do what you can.


Please direct all questions, comments, suggestions to Michael Dee Gunn, mdgunn@itsa.ucsf.edu.