Local voters discuss Proposition 15

* Measure could alter campaign funding

By Stephanie Hoops

Money is powerful in politics, Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett acknowledged to an audience of about 130 people who met Sunday at the Camarillo Library to hear about a movement to begin public financing for elections.

"Money has even made it very difficult to write laws to fight money," Bennett said.

But if voters approve Proposition 15 on the state ballot in June, campaigns could change drastically, opening up opportunities for vastly different types of candidates with vastly different interests, he said.

County Supervisor Kathy Long said voters sometimes feel as if their votes don't count.

"Why?" Long asked. "Because they feel overwhelmed by the dollars being spent."

Proposition 15, also known as the California Fair Elections Act, would create a pilot program limiting the private financing of election campaigns. Its rules would initially apply only to candidates for California secretary of state in 2014 and 2018.

The measure would allow candidates to enter a race after they collect $5 donations (no more, no less) from at least 7,500 people.

Once in the race, candidates would receive a flat sum of public funds to spend on their campaigns, and they would be barred from raising private money. If privately funded opponents outspend them, the publicly financed candidates would receive added public matching funds to level the playing field.

The public funds would come from raising the annual registration fees (from $12.50 to $350) that lobbyists, lobbying firms and lobbyist employers pay to the state, and from voluntary state tax contributions.

The proposition would effectively repeal the state's existing ban on public funding of campaigns.

The Institute for Government Advocates, a lobbyist trade group, is opposing the initiative, claiming it would put an unconstitutional tax on lobbying. Last year, the organization filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit arguing that point.

Last week, Tom Hiltachk, an attorney for the measure's opponents, told the Oakland Tribune that what the proponents call a fee would actually be a tax on businesses, charities and lobbyist employers to pay for something they have nothing to do with.

As chairman of Californians for Fair Elections, Trent Lange is leading the effort to get the initiative passed.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity," Lange told the Camarillo gathering. "It took six years to get it to the legislature. We have to win this."

Supporters of Proposition 15 say it's a form of the "clean election" laws which have been adopted in seven other states (Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont) and two cities (Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M.).

See the article on Ventura County Star website

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