As a recently termed-out Republican Assemblymember, I support AB 583 (Hancock), the California Fair Elections Act, that is currently on the Governor’s desk. I know this is not a popular position with the Republican caucus in our legislature, but I am very concerned about the corrupting influence of money in politics and feel this bill makes an important start at addressing this critical problem.
The “Clean Elections” public financing system that AB 583 is based on seems to work well in the states that have it. Not only does it allow candidates to run for office without accepting any special interest campaign contributions, it allows them to run independently of whether they are backed by their party, because any candidate that shows enough public support can qualify for funds to run their campaign whether they are supported by their party or not.
Elected officials that use Fair Elections funding are therefore much more likely to be able to act independently of their party to do what is best for their constituents, something that the recent budget situation showed the importance of.
When I had an opportunity to vote on an earlier version of AB 583 in 2006, I thanked Assemblymember Hancock for bringing the bill to the floor but abstained, in large part due to the fact that it didn’t have a funding source. I believe that the current funding source, increasing lobbyist registration fees to the same level as they are in Illinois, is a very reasonable and appropriate funding source for Secretary of State races. Raising their registration fees from their current $12.50 a year to $350 a year is not going to put any of them out of business.
While this bill isn’t perfect and I’d prefer that it provided more funding than it does, I think it makes a good first step. A low-cost pilot project like this is important not only in and of itself for a crucial office like that of Secretary of State, but as a way to see what changes the system might need before expanding it to other offices.
I believe that this is an historic opportunity for California to lead the nation in reform of the problem of special interest money in politics. And because AB 583 refers the question to the June 2010 ballot, the Governor will be allowing the people to decide.