Debt Consolidation

Prop 212 - The Threat to Reform in California

Posted on: June 04, 2008
Written by: UWSA Staff

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Prop 212 - The Threat to Reform in California

"Proposition 212 masquerades as radical change
but would likely accomplish little."

The Oakland Tribune

In successfully qualifying a campaign finance reform initiative for the November 1996 ballot, we overcame one of the biggest hurdles to obtaining political reform in California. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story.

The day we turned in our petitions, another group started circulating petitions for what became Prop 212. Billed as "tough" reform, Prop 212 is a classic counter-initiative that would deliver something quite different. Ironically, the sponsors of Prop 212 (the California Public Interest Research Group) were originally with our coalition but chose to leave in order to pursue their own version of campaign finance reform. We can only assume that they fell in with the wrong crowd after they left us, since their new partners are two of California's top ten PACs. While probably well-meaning, CalPIRG has made a number of serious policy and technical errors resulting in an unworkable, fatally flawed initiative that would result in no reform in California.

Why We Oppose Prop 212

Prop 212 would kill our ethics laws.

Believe it not, Prop 212 would repeal major portions of California's Ethics in Government Act. Prop 212 would eliminate the ban on honoraria (speaking fees, etc.) for all candidates for elective office, local government officials, and members of State boards and commissions. This would mean that special interests could make direct cash payments to them personally, circumventing all campaign finance restrictions entirely. Prop 212 would also allow state elected officials, state legislative and local officials, and candidates for elective office to accept unlimited gifts and free travel from special interest contributors. You can read our detailed version of this story, a good press account, or look at the actual text for yourself.

We want effective reform now, not another court case.

Designed to send a message and challenge current court precedents in the area of campaign finance law, the major provisions of Prop 212 are unconstitutional by current standards and unlikely to ever become law. Each of its three major provisions have already been declared unconstitutional.

If Prop 212 wins in November, it will immediately be challenged. While the 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. The last time a California campaign finance law was challenged, it was eight years before the courts made a final ruling. We want campaign finance reform now, not a prolonged court case, and find the Prop 212 approach unacceptable.

Every key provision of Prop 208 has either been challenged and upheld in the courts or has stood without challenge for years. If passed, Prop 208 will give Californians the toughest campaign finance law in the nation.

Strict campaign reform laws should apply to everyone.

Though all special interest groups should have a voice in our government, they should not be able to buy influence with elected officials. Prop 212 has major loophole when it comes to large membership PACs. Though the sponsors of 212 claim that their initiative bans union and corporate contributions, in reality it bans only direct contributions from these groups. These goups could still contribute hundreds of thousands of dollar through their PACs Under Prop 212, five of California's top ten PACs would not see their total contributions decreased at all. A nonpartisan group has calculated the total contributions allowed from big PACs under both our initiative and Prop 212.

This may explain why two of the state's largest PACs are co-sponsoring Prop 212. As the Oakland Tribune said, " 212's exemptions from contribution limits for some of its biggest financial contributors" are a cause for concern.

Prop 212 would invalidate local campaign finance ordinances already in effect.

Campaign finance laws recently won by citizens in San Francisco and Oakland would be invalidated by Prop 212, and Los Angeles' strong ordinance would be severely weakened. In contrast, CPR would allow these local ordinances to remain in effect. For more information on this, see the memo from the Center for Governmental studies.

Prop 212 contains a Poison Pill which would invalidate 208;
if it gets more votes, the net effect will be no reform at all.

In 1988, when California voters were presented with two competing finance measures, they voted for both and we ended up with no reform at all. California cannot afford to repeat this experience.

For a reason unknown to us, Prop 212 contains a "poison pill" which would specifically nullify our initiative. Should the Prop 212 get more votes, all other campaign finance measures on the ballot would be "null and void in their entirety." This means that even if all the major provisions of Prop 212 are thrown out by the courts, Prop 208 would still not go into effect, and Californians would be left again with no campaign finance laws.

If, on the other hand, Prop 208 gets the most votes, the "poison pill" states that Prop 212 would go into effect to "the extent possible": a built-in double-standard. We still fail to understand why a supposed reform organization would attempt to invalidate the work of other reformers.

Prop 208 contains no poison pill.

Our Current Position

We would support any sincere effort at political reform. Unfortunately, Prop 212 does not qualify. Prop 212's repeal of our ethics laws is a major step backwards and their poison pill is a direct attack on our initiative, making this an either-or proposition. For this reason, we oppose Prop 212 and we are asking others to do the same.

Clearing the Waters

Clearly, with two campaign finance reform initiatives on the ballot, things are going to get complicated between now and November. A lot of groups are going to make a lot of claims and counter-claims. Those of you who are not experts in this area are going to have a hard time making an informed decision.

The conventional wisdom is that confusion hurts reform efforts. Confused voters tend to vote no on everything. For this reason, we are attempting to make our case with facts rather than rhetoric and provide supporting evidence for all of our claims. If you still aren't sure about something we've said, please contact us. Misleading the public is what we're fighting against.

Finally, if you like what you've seen on these pages, you can help by telling others about us and our initiative. Spreading the word is what a grass roots campaign is all about.