Prop. 15 means fair elections
It's not news to any of us in California that our governance is dysfunctional. One reason for the mess we're in is our current campaign finance system. The amount of money spent on elections is outrageous. The system gives big donors outsized influence, drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.
And our elected officials spend far too much time raising money and not enough time doing their jobs. To break this pattern, we need to change the way we fund election campaigns, so that politicians can get out of the fundraising business and focus on fixing the serious issues facing our state - like education, public safety, and the budget crisis.
Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, would change how we finance election campaigns. It creates a pilot project to provide limited public financing for secretary of state candidates in 2014 and 2018. Since the secretary of state supervises our elections, it's especially important that he or she be the person with the best ideas and experience, not access to the most money.
This measure also removes the current ban on public financing in California. That would allow the pilot project to be expanded if successful. It also lets cities and counties implement public financing, if they choose. The state should not dictate to local governments whether or not they can have public financing - this gives them the freedom to make their own choice.
Proposition 15 imposes strict requirements on those seeking public funding:
- Candidates would have to show broad public support by gathering signatures and $5 contributions from 7,500 registered voters.
- Participating candidates would be banned from raising or spending any beyond set amounts.
- Spending limits and reporting requirements would be strictly enforced. Candidates could spend only on legitimate expenses and could not hire family members for their campaigns. Violators would face fines, jail time and a prohibition from running for office.
Proposition 15 pays for itself, primarily through increased registration fees on lobbyists, now only $12.50 per year in California - among the lowest in the nation. Contrary to opponents' claims, it will not raise your taxes or take money from the general fund.
Big money interests oppose Proposition 15 because they don't want to lose their current privileged access to politicians. That access, and the special favors that go along with it, have helped lead us into a cycle of never-ending budget deficits.
Supporters of Proposition 15 represent a broad coalition of Californians who are working to fix our broken political system. We are joined by the California Nurses Association, California Common Cause, the California Clean Money Campaign, AARP, the Sierra Club and some 400 other organizations and leaders.
We know that fair elections work - we've seen it happen. In eight states and two cities, nearly 400 candidates - new people, with new ideas, of varied backgrounds - have been elected under fair elections systems. Because fair elections candidates never take campaign contributions, they work for the people, not the special interests.
California voters are tired of the dysfunctional status quo. They want government that works for all the people, not just the moneyed and powerful.
Proposition 15 is a big step in the right direction. It spells the beginning of the end for big money in California politics. It's time to stop the dominance of wealthy candidates and donors and ensure that elections will be won, not bought.
- Janis R. Hirohama is president of the League of Women Voters of California.