The minutiae of the state budget agreement will continue to
be debated by pundits and fiscal and policy experts for
some time, but the public has already voiced its opinion on
business-as-usual in Sacramento. A Public Policy Institute
of California survey shows that public opinion of the
governor is the lowest of his tenure. The Legislature
garnered a record low 17 percent approval rating.
Voters will have the chance to shake up business as usual
by passing the California Fair Elections Act on the June
2010 ballot. With it, Californians can finally begin to
fundamentally reform the election process by getting
elected officials out of the fundraising game so they can
devote their time to solving California's problems.
After a weeks-long standoff, the governor and legislators
finally sealed the deal on a complicated package of
budget "fixes" meant to shore up the state's $26 billion
After the deal was finalized, news reports revealed that
key trade-offs of the budget deal were finalized not in
public meetings or in televised votes but in backroom
deals with doors closed to all but a few elected
officials - and a few powerful lobbyists.
There's good reason for voters' obvious dissatisfaction.
Children, seniors, people with disabilities and
middle-class families are all paying dearly for the
budget mess in the form of less health care coverage for
kids, higher college tuition, worsening roads and public
infrastructure, and more crowded schools and hospitals.
But billion-dollar industries haven't been asked to
sacrifice a single penny to get the state back on track.
California voters know it's no coincidence that these
industries are among the largest donors to campaign
committees controlled by elected officials and candidates
for office. In one of the most egregious examples of
Sacramento's pay-to-play rules, the governor stymied his
own proposal for an oil extraction tax - a proposal
widely supported by voters - after Chevron Corp. donated
$500,000 to his special election committee. Attempts to
increase the sales tax on cigarettes were also stymied
after Philip Morris gave $350,000. And who knows what
other budget fixes the public might have supported that
were killed in the Legislature after the more than $120
million given to California legislative candidates in the
2008 election cycle alone. It's obscene, but perfectly
The California Fair Elections Act is based on the simple
notion that elected officials should be accountable to
the voters, not donors and special interests. Authored by
Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and signed by Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, the measure asks voters to establish a
voluntary pilot project for California's secretary of
state races in 2014 and 2018, allowing candidates to
qualify for public financing if they agree to strict
spending prohibitions and show they have a broad base of
support by raising 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
The California Fair Elections Act is based on proven and
successful election reforms 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.
Elections in those states are far more competitive -
unlike California, where the median winning candidate
outspent the median losing candidate in 2008 by a
startling 28-1. The California Fair Elections Act
represents the change voters want and the reform
California so badly needs.
Trent Lange is the chairman of Californians for Fair
Elections. Richard Holober is the executive director of the
Consumer Federation of California.
This article appeared on page A - 19
of the San Francisco Chronicle