Debt Consolidation

Threat to Reform in California

Posted on: June 17, 2008
Written by: UWSA Staff
In successfully qualifying a campaign finance reform initiative for the November 1996 ballot, we have overcome one of the biggest hurdles to obtaining political reform in California. We had hoped that by now we could proceed directly with taking on the moneyed special interests. Unfortunately, we cannot. In recent months, two different groups have come forward with counter-initiatives which could invalidate our efforts. We see both of these as threats to real political reform in California.

Counter-Initiative #1 - The Anti-Corruption Act (ACA)

This initiative is sponsored by CalPIRG, an organization that was originally with our coalition and chose to leave the group in order to pursue their own vision of campaign finance reform. The ACA was designed to further the PIRG's national goal of challenging court precedents in the area of campaign finance law. For this reason, the major provisions of the ACA are unconstitutional by current standards and in our opinion unlikely to ever become law.

While we generally support the PIRG's reform efforts and see nothing wrong with challenging court precedents, we strongly disagree with the approach they have taken in California. For a reason unknown to us, the ACA contains a "poison pill" which would specifically nullify our initiative. This means that while their case is in the courts (and for the foreseeable future if their court challenge fails), we will be left with no limits on campaign contributions and spending in California. We have found that most people in California want campaign finance reform now, not a prolonged court case, and find the CalPIRG approach unacceptable.

Our preference is to give Californians some decent campaign finance laws first and then worry about court challenges. In a recent letter, we have asked the PIRGs to delay their initiative until after ours is voted on. That way, they can have their court challenge and Californian's can have good campaign finance laws. Everybody wins. We see no reason to kill campaign finance reform in California just because some organization has their own agenda. If you feel the same way, talk to CalPIRG. Or don't sign their petition until May.

In all fairness, we should point out that unconstitutionality and the poison pill aren't the only problems we have with the ACA. This initiative has two other major flaws:

First, the ACA is not strict enough in its treatment of large membership PACs. Under the ACA, five of California's top ten PACs would not see their total contributions decreased at all. While we feel that special interest groups should have a voice in our government, they should not be able to buy influence with elected officials. The ACA would allow this practice to continue by letting large PACs donate to candidates 100 times the amount that anyone else could with no aggregate limit. If you want to see the numbers, a nonpartisan group has calculated the total contributions allowed from big PACs under both the ACA and our initiative.

The second flaw with the ACA is that it would invalidate local campaign finance laws in several major California cities including Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Some of these local laws include public financing (which the PIRGs support), so this may have been just a screw-up on their part. Screw-up or not, these local initiatives have been working well and invalidating them would set the clock back on reform by at least a decade.

Bottom line: While the CalPIRG Anti-Corruption Act is well intentioned, it contains several major flaws. If it is on the same ballot as the California Political Reform Act, it could kill real reform in California.

Counter-initiative #2 - The Son of Seventy Three

Not willing to let any good reform effort go unchallenged, two California State Senators have introduced a bill to put a legislature-sponsored campaign finance reform initiative on the November 1996 ballot. This bill, SB1749 sponsored by Ross Johnson and Quentin Kopp, seeks to give California contribution limits of $1000 for individuals, $2500 for PACs and no spending limits or aggregate contribution limits. A companion bill has been introduced in the Assembly.

The irony here is that in 1988 these same Senators used a virtually identical bill to place Prop 73 on the ballot, which killed Prop 68, the Common Cause sponsored campaign finance reform initiative. It would appear that the legislature is attempting to derail reform once again.

The last thing we need is another counter-initiative coming from the legislature. Hopefully these "Son of 73" bills will never make it out of their first committee. You may want to give your state legislators your opinion on this.

Stopping This Foolishness
Clearly, the best way to reform California's political system and get special interest money out of our elections is to have one and only one campaign finance reform initiative on the ballot. We don't need two campaign finance reform initiatives (much less three). This will only confuse the voters, split the reform vote, and lessen the chances of real political reform for California.

The measure that is already on the ballot, the California Political Reform Act, would give us the strictest, most comprehensive campaign laws in the country. It was placed on the ballot by the hard work of thousands of volunteers. It would fundamentally change California politics, increasing the voice of individual citizens and decreasing the influence of moneyed special interests.

Sponsors of the California Anti-Corruption Act need to turn in about 700,000 signatures before the end of April in order to make the November 1996 ballot. If they pass this deadline, they will qualify for a later ballot and would not be able to invalidate our initiative. We urge you to take a hard look at their initiative before you sign it. If you really like it, sign it in May.

We also ask that you call your state legislators. Tell them that you do not want to see a campaign finance reform initiative come out of the legislature this year. They had their chance to implement reform. Now they can only kill it.

If you are interested enough to have read this far, perhaps you are interested enough to give us a hand. If so, please see our information about volunteering. You will also not be surprised to learn that we welcome monetary contributions. We don't have a lot of money, but we do a lot with what we get. Every bit helps. Please see Making a Monetary Contribution if you are this sort.

Finally, feel free to download this page and distribute it. Spreading the word is what a grass roots campaign is all about.