It's Our Turn


Californians know what happens when special interests finance our state elections: They get a pretty nice return on investment in Sacramento.

We also know what happens when politicians are forced to raise millions of dollars to compete for a seat in the Legislature, or tens of millions to compete for a statewide office. They spend far more time dialing for dollars than they do talking to voters.

The distortion of elected officials' priorities was on full display in the Capitol this week as lawmakers held their usual buffet of August fundraisers even as the budget stalemate went beyond 40 days and 40 nights.

There is a better way.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, has been pushing for a public-financing system similar to one used in Maine, Massachusetts and Arizona. Her "clean money plan" originally was intended to apply to all state offices, but it kept bogging down in the Legislature.

This worthy concept took a regrettable detour in the November 2006 election when the California Nurses Association tried to appropriate the "clean money" campaign for its seriously flawed Proposition 89 - which attempted to tilt the playing field toward unions and against corporations on ballot measures. Voters rejected it by a 3-to-1 ratio.

To her credit, Hancock stayed with the "clean money" issue, narrowing her bill (AB583) to cover only campaigns for secretary of state, starting in 2010. It was an excellent choice for a pilot project, since a secretary of state is expected to operate above the political fray. It would have been nice to see the trial applied to the insurance commissioner's race - the industry's continuing attempts to bankroll its choices for this watchdog post is outrageous - but we'll save that argument for another day. The bill is a start.

Finally, after years of effort, Hancock's "clean money" bill is approaching the finish line. It cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 9-6 vote last week.

Hancock acknowledged the "real meltdown in the state budget" created problems for AB583, but she had a funding solution - a $350 a year registration fee on lobbyists. Such fees would still remain well below those in other states, she noted.

In return, Californians will get a chance to see what happens when candidates for a major statewide office are freed from the rigors and favors that come with raising millions of dollars for a campaign.

The full Senate should approve AB583.


This measure would institute a trial test of a public financing system similar to the "clean money" plans being used in Maine, Massachusetts and Arizona. It would apply only to campaigns for secretary of state, starting in 2010.

Author: Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley

How financed: California would raise the registration fee for lobbyists (now $25 for two years) to $350 a year.

How candidates qualify: By demonstrating a base of support by raising "seed money" of minimum $5 donations (maximum $100) from at least 7,500 registered voters. Also, a candidate's total seed money could not exceed $75,000.

How much they receive: A base sum of $1 million in public funds for a primary election and $1.5 million in a general election - with the prospect of receiving more if they are being by a candidate who has opted out of the system of public financing.

Assembly vote: Passed, 45-34 (June 6, 2007)

Senate vote: Imminent.

Express your view: You can find the name and contact information for your senator at

See the article on San Francisco Chronicle website

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