Clean Money Pilot Program Moves to California Senate Floor with Lobbyists as the Only Serious Organizational Opposition

By Julie Rajan, Commentary

The full State Senate will soon have the opportunity to make history in California by passing "Clean Money, Fair Elections" public financing of campaigns after AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act (Hancock, D-East Bay), was voted out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday on a 9-6 party-line vote.

AB 583 would establish a voluntary full public financing system for Secretary of State candidates modeled after the systems that have been working in Arizona and Maine for eight years. AB 583 has now been amended to be funded by voluntary contributions designated on state tax returns and by a registration fee of $350 a year on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers, the same as in Illinois. Currently lobbyists only pay $25 every two years in California, one of the lowest rates in the country.

Secretary of State candidates, like all other candidates, have to spend huge amounts of time raising money for their campaigns from private contributors. Concern about the influence of such private contributors is why polls consistently show that nearly two-thirds of Californians believe that California is run for the benefit of a few big special interests, rather than for people like them. Californians would have more faith in their government if candidates could instead spend more time reaching out to voters and discussing issues that matter to them.

Sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign, AB 583 is supported by a wide range of organizations, from good government groups like the League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause, and CALPIRG to groups representing diverse Californian interests such as Sierra Club California, the Consumer Federation of California, the Equal Justice Society, the California Nurses Association, the California Teamsters, the William C. Velasquez Institute, and Gray Panthers California. Over 80 regular voters from as far as Orange County drove to Sacramento testify at the hearing on Monday.

Serious organizational opposition comes from the Institute for Governmental Advocates, an organization that lobbies for lobbyists.

As we've spent time in the Capitol, however, the interesting thing is that a number of individual lobbyists have approached us and told us that they wouldn't mind paying higher fees if it would allow public financing for Secretary of State candidates. Generally speaking, the less wealthy the interests a lobbyist represents, the more willing they seem to be to pay a higher fee.

As Elizabeth Sholes, Director of Public Policy for California Church IMPACT, said, "Protests from the Institute for Governmental Advocates to prevent legislators from supporting AB 583 and clean election financing are absurd. We are a most modestly-funded advocacy organization, and we find the proposed fee quite acceptable. It's unconscionable that well-paid California lobbyists with well-to-do clients do not want to pay what lobbyists pay in other states. AB 583 will level the playing field and make it easier for Secretary of State candidates who do not have wealthy backers to run."

Clean Money is popular in the states that have it. Arizona and Maine started public-financing state elections 8 years ago. 85% of Arizonans familiar with their Clean Elections system believe it is important to Arizona voters. Connecticut's legislature passed a Clean Money bill in 2006 that is so popular that 215 out of 225 candidates have indicated they will use it. North Carolina, New Mexico, and New Jersey all have Clean Money pilot programs.

Assemblymember Loni Hancock, Senate Elections Chair Ron Calderon, Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Torlakson, and AB 583 co-author Senate President pro Tem Don Perata have all taken a bold step towards achieving Californians' wishes to explore an alternative to the way we finance election campaigns. With their support and the support of other Senators on the Senate floor, we'll be one step closer to truly fair elections in California.

Senators Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and Dean Florez (D-Bakersfield) made the difference in the committee. They joined AB 583 co-authors Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles), Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and previous Clean Money co-authors Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) and Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) in voting Yes on AB 583.

Speaking after the Committee vote, Assemblymember Hancock said, "It has been a long and hard road, but I am deeply pleased that AB 583 is now moving to the Senate Floor. This reform is a critical step to helping restore the voters' confidence in government and I trust that the rest of my colleagues in the Senate will recognize its necessity."

The over 30,000 people who've signed the petition for AB 583 and the hundreds of thousands of Californians represented by the nearly 300 organizations that have endorsed Clean Money would agree.

More information about AB 583 can be found on

Julie Rajan is Executive Director of the California Clean Money Campaign. Most recently, she served as the Social Policy Director on the board of the League of Women Voters of California where her portfolio covered a wide range of issues from children and family legislation, housing, health care, mental health and juvenile justice, to education from pre-kindergarten to community colleges and universities.

See the article on California Progress Report website

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