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Barbara Cogswell: In support of free elections and Proposition 15

SCV Voices

Posted: May 24, 2010 10:40 p.m.
Updated: May 25, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Like most people, I think I have a right to expect fair elections. A fair election is a major requirement for the maintenance of this democratic republic we live in.

It has become increasingly clear though, that the money spent by lobbyists all too often drowns out the voters' voices. Proposition 15 will appear on our June 8 ballots, giving us a chance to correct that troublesome reality.

What is Proposition 15, which concerns fair elections? How will it work?

  • It is a pilot project, involving only the office of the California Secretary of State, for the 2014 and 2018 elections. That's good. Let's try it out and work out the bugs, if any.
  • It will not raise our taxes. Funding for this will come from increasing fees to lobbyists, their employers and lobbying firms. Lobbyists currently pay just $12.50 annually. It will pay for itself.
  • It's voluntary. No politician will be required to participate. Wealthy self-funded candidates retain all rights they have under current rules.
  • Candidates who choose to participate will not be permitted to raise money from lobbyists or their clients. Violators could face fines, jail sentences and be prohibited from running for office in the future.
  • Fair-election candidates will receive funding only if they show strong support by gathering 7,500 $5 contributions and signatures from registered California voters. Third-party or independent voters must gather 15,000 $5 contributions and signatures.

    If this requirement is met, they can receive full funding for the general election.
  • Will fair-election candidates be outspent by privately funded candidates? Proposition 15 provides up to four times the initial allocation, so they can compete in a highly contested race. Fair-election funding will be given within 24 hours of a last-minute campaign attacks.
  • Fair-election candidates are required to engage in at least one debate in a contested primary and two debates in contested general elections. Ideas will be exchanged instead of meaningless sound bites.
  • What is the initial allocation? For the candidate for the office of the Secretary of State, $1 million for the primary election. A winning candidate would receive an additional $1.3 million for the general election.
  • What if outside groups spend a lot of money to defeat a candidate? Fair-election funds would be granted dollar-for-dollar up to four times the initial allocation, to allow them to respond on an equal basis.

    In Arizona from 2002 to 2006, such independent expenditures decreased 58 percent under the state's fair election regulations. In California with no provisions for fair elections, independent expenditures increased by 144 percent.
  • Do we really need Proposition 15 to give us fair elections? California voters are ready for elections that money can't buy.
  • In a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, those likely to be voting in the June 2010 election supported fair elections by a 3-1 margin. The breakdown: 65 percent among Democrats, 65 percent among independents and 59 percent among Republicans.

    Perhaps the non-voting public will feel encouraged to get out and vote. Our voters' participation for June 2009 was a shockingly low 20.9 percent, according to voting record statistics provided by the office of the Secretary of State.
  • Proposition 15 gets politicians out of the fundraising game. It eliminates the need to begin campaigning for the next election once the last has been won. Since 2000 more than $1 billion (yes, billion) was raised by California politicians. This gave access to special interests and ignored ours.

    It has created a system where the best candidates, the best informed and the best intentioned have no recourse but to accept those funds. Those special interests must be getting what they pay for too, as they continue to pay election after election.

    We deserve a better system - one that will permit the elected official to address urgent issues, education, health care, water, energy and the environment.
  • How about the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC? This decision will have no effect. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld public-financing provisions like those in the California Fair Elections Act.

    If anything, it shows that fair-election public financing is the best answer to end the corrupting effects of the exorbitant amounts of money spent.
  • Are fair election provisions a success in the states that have already implemented them? Maine, one of the first to change the way its elections were financed, has elected 85 percent of its legislature by fair election rules. Of several states and two cities that have implemented fair elections, more than 400 officials have been elected.

I am convinced. I will mark the "yes" box on June 8.

Barbara Cogswell is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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