Latino Leaders Tout California Fair Elections Act

* Forum led by Asm. De La Torre highlights ballot measure's benefits for Latino Community

By Press Release

LOS ANGELES, CA - Led by Assemblymember Hector De La Torre, Latino leaders came together today to educate the Southern California community about the California Fair Elections Act, a ballot proposition which would help level the playing field for Latino candidates running for elected office. Joining Asm. De La Torre in a forum at the offices of Los Angeles' Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) were Carmen Avalos, South Gate City Clerk; Antonio Gonzalez, President, William C. Velasquez Institute; and Trent Lange, Chairman of the California Fair Elections Campaign.

"California needs to pass the California Fair Elections Act so that every qualified candidate can have the opportunity to win elected office, not just the ones with the most money," said Assemblymember Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate). "The California Fair Elections Act is an important reform that will begin to level the playing field so that so that more Latinos and candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds can serve their communities."

Authored by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the California Fair Elections Act would establish a voluntary pilot project for California's Secretary of State races in 2014 and 2018. Candidates would qualify for public financing if they agree to strict spending prohibitions and raise a large number of $5 contributions from Californians. The pilot program would be funded primarily by fees on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers, with no taxpayer dollars going to candidates.

A version of the California Fair Elections Act is already in place in seven states and two cities. Nearly 400 candidates were elected using only fair elections funding in their 2008 campaigns, and the programs enjoy popular support across party lines. National surveys show that two out of three voters support public financing, including 71% of Latinos surveyed.

"California has given me so many opportunities, including the honor of representing several Southeast Los Angeles County communities in the California State Assembly," De La Torre continued, "While I have been fortunate in succeeding under the current system, I know of many skilled and dedicated individuals who do not even try to run for office because of the many barriers." He noted that when these financial barriers are eliminated, as they have been in Arizona and Maine, more people of color are allowed to

run for office. In Arizona the number of Latino and Native American candidates running for office nearly tripled in the first year Fair Elections went fully into effect, from 13 in 2000 to 37 in 2002.

"By ensuring that elections are about ideas, not money, the California Fair Elections Act will mean elected officials finally have the opportunity to focus on the needs of Latino communities rather than fundraising for their next election," said Antonio Gonzalez, President, William C. Velasquez Institute. "The Fair Elections Act will help more Latinos become engaged in our democracy, because we'll know that our votes really matter."

Under Fair Elections systems in other states, small donors are just as important as big donors, because each individual can only give $5 to help their chosen candidate qualify. A 2008 study by Public Campaign of Arizona's system showed that Fair Elections $5 donors more accurately represent the diversity of the state than the private system does. Fair Elections candidates collected twice as much, proportionally, of their contributions from zip codes with the highest percentages of Hispanics than did privately funded candidates.

Carmen Avalos, South Gate City Clerk added, "As a local elections official, I've seen how our current money-driven system grants an unfair disadvantage to Latino candidates and communities. I'm supporting the California Fair Elections Act so that candidates who show a broad base of support can run for office even if they don't have deep pockets."

"Under a fair elections system, elected officials truly represent voters, not campaign donors," said Trent Lange, chairman of the California Fair Elections Campaign. "Public financing has freed elected officials across the country to pass bi-partisan, groundbreaking legislation that is only possible when our leaders do not fear retribution from powerful special interests."

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