For Immediate Release
‘HISTORIC MOMENT’ AS LEGISLATURE PASSES ‘FAIR ELECTIONS’ PILOT PROJECT
Real People Beat “Lobbyists’ Lobbyists” in Legislature
September 2, 2008 (Sacramento) — “Fair Elections” public financing of campaigns now will move to the Governor’s desk after AB 583, the California Fair Elections Act (Hancock, D-Oakland), passed out of the full Assembly on a concurrence vote Saturday by a vote of 42-32, despite heavy lobbyist opposition. Even one of the Assembly opponents of the bill called it a “historic moment” in California.
AB 583 would establish a pilot project for voluntary full public financing system for Secretary of State candidates in 2014 and 2018 if it is passed by a vote of the people on the June 2010 ballot. It is modeled after the “Clean Money” systems that have been working in Arizona and Maine for eight years and recently adopted by Connecticut and other localities. Connecticut’s new system is so popular that 95% of legislative candidates this year plan to use it.
“The Secretary of State makes a perfect pilot project for Fair Elections funding because it is the office that guards the very integrity of our electoral system”, said Julie Rajan, Executive Director of the California Clean Money Campaign, the sponsor of the bill. “Secretary of State candidates, like all other candidates, have to spend huge amounts of time raising money for their campaigns from private contributors. Californians would have more faith in their government if candidates could instead spend more time talking to voters instead.”
AB 583 is funded by voluntary contributions designated on state tax returns and by a registration fee of $350 a year on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers, the same as in Illinois. Because of this, the most vocal organizational opposition came from the Institute for Governmental Advocates, a trade association that lobbies for lobbyists. They came out in force to try to stop the bill, even though California lobbyists currently only pay $12.50 a year, one of the lowest rates in the country and even though even barbers and cosmetologists pay higher license fees.
Three Democrats who had voted Yes before the bill was amended to be paid for by the increase in lobbyist registration fees switched their votes.
“Fortunately the intense opposition to AB 583 by the lobbyists’ lobbyists wasn’t enough to kill Fair Elections after the legislature saw that over 30,000 people had signed the petition for AB 583 and over 1,000 people had called or written asking them to pass it”, said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. “A majority of the legislature saw that this was a case of lobbyists vs. the people, and they did the right thing.”
He continued, “Assembly Speaker Karen Bass joined AB 583 co-author Senate President pro-Tem Don Perata and Senate President pro Tem-elect Darrell Steinberg in demonstrating strong leadership by moving this bill to the Governor’s desk.”
Governor Schwarzenegger made the problem of money in politics one of the focuses of his recall election campaign. As he said in a campaign commercial then, “Special interests have a stranglehold on Sacramento. Here’s how it works. The money comes in. The favors go out. The people lose.”
“Governor Schwarzenegger is right that the people lose with the current system of campaign financing”, said Derek Cressman, Western States Regional Director of Common Cause. “Now he has the opportunity to let the people decide if they want to try a better way.”
AB 583 is supported by a wide range of organizations, from good government groups like the League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause, and CalPIRG to groups representing diverse Californian interests such as Sierra Club California, Consumer Federation of California, Equal Justice Society, California Nurses Association, California Teamsters, and Gray Panthers California.
All but five Democrats voted for the bill in the Assembly. All but four Democrats voted for it when it passed the Senate on a vote of 21-18 the day before. No Republicans voted for it.
The California Clean Money Campaign is a non-partisan, non-profit organization whose mission is to achieve an open and accountable government reponsive to the needs of all Californians by building statewide support for public funding of election campaigns.