California Fair Elections Act will boost fairness, candidate diversity

By Deborah White, Commentary

The California Fair Elections Act, which will be one of three propositions included on the June 8, 2010 ballot, has been a long time coming in our state where, for years, corporations have exploited near-free reign to spend as they please without limits on political campaigns.

If you can possibly imagine, both Gov. Schwarzenegger and California Democratic Party Chair John Burton support this measure.

The list of individual endorsers is comprehensive, and includes State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, plus 16 state senators and 37 Assembly members… all Democrats, of course. The list of organizational endorsers is equally impressive.

But that's not why the California Fair Elections Act ("the CFEA") caught my attention enough to compel me to attend a kick-off campaign meeting this past weekend.

I care, and you should care, about supporting the the CFEA for two primary reasons:

* The measure fosters candidate diversity by boosting financial support for candidates without access to a personal fortune.
* The measure virtually eliminates fundraising efforts for candidates opting to use state public financing for election or reelection.

At the meeting I attended, three-term Assemblyman Hector De La Torre explained, at great lengths, how the onerous, time-consuming task of raising money detracts from spending time legislating, as well as discourages diversity of candidates and among "people who are not networked."

De La Torre pointed out that in the California Assembly's current sophomore class, "nine of eleven members are millionaires."

Perhaps the most poignant presentations were by two local city leaders… La Habra City Councilwoman Rose Espinosa, now Orange County Supervisor candidate, and Fullerton City Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who briefly considered a recent run for the Assembly District #72's vacated seat. Espinosa and Quirk-Silva have served as mayors of their respective cities.

Both women lamented the exorbitant cost of campaigns as causing a myriad of candidates to drop-out or lose races. Quirk-Silva cited "$100,000 mailers" as "discouraging, disllusioning," while Espinosa exhorted "We have to change the election system… Know that I support this measure."

The CFEA will "give third party candidates a fair shake," added Jane Rand, the Green Party candidate in the January 19, 2010 Assembly District #72 special election.

Briefly, this beta program for California state elections will publicly finance races for candidates who opt-in from a fund comprised of $350 annual fees required to be paid by all lobbyists in California. Lobbbyists presently pay $12.50 per year. This fund will be used to financially support the 2014 and 2018 California Secretary of State elections.

If successful, the program could be expanded to cover more state races. Such Fair Elections funding mechanisms are already used in Arizona, Maine, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Per Trent Lange, Californians for Fair Elections Chair, 80% of the members of the sitting Connecticut state legislature were elected via Fair Election systems.

Make no mistake about it: The California Fair Elections Act is a baby step, but it's unmistakably an incremental step in the right direction. It's undoubtedly the right thing to do.

Visit the Yes on the California Fair Election Act website for more info, to sign-up for a kick-off meeting and email updates, and to take action.

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