Taking its queue from similar successful programs in the states of Arizona and Maine, the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2007 (Assembly Bill 583) was introduced to the California State Assembly by member Loni Hancock (D-East Bay) on Feb. 21 and amended June 4.
Seeking to create greater access to public office, AB 583 would provide public funding for state campaigns. In its current form as a proposed pilot program, the bill would provide such funding for the gubernatorial race in 2010, as well as the race for one seat each in the state Senate and Assembly.
The bill charges that “the current campaign finance system diminishes the free speech rights of nonwealthy voters and candidates whose voices are drowned out by those who can afford to monopolize the arena of paid political communications.” Hancock legislative aide Armando Viramontes explained the bill’s necessity by commenting that “public perception is that special interests have an undue influence on government decisions. We believe that this legislation will restore faith and trust back to democracy.”
To be eligible to draw from the Clean Money Fund, the candidate must agree to only campaign using public money in concert with “seed money” funds, contributions from constituents and specific party funds. Qualifying contributions are defined as $5 donations from registered voters considered to be the candidate’s constituency. In an Assembly race, 500 such contributions are required; for a Senate race, 1,000, and for the seat of governor, 25,000.
Once a candidate has secured Clean Money funding, he cannot accept private donations outside of his political party, and party donations are subject to regulation. During elections, all financial transactions related to the campaign must be conducted from one campaign account.
The actual amount of base money varies by campaign, but in the event that a Clean Money candidate faces competition from one or more “adequately funded” opponents in a primary, special or runoff election, an Assembly candidate can expect to receive $250,000, a Senate candidate $500,000and a gubernatorial candidate $10 million. Funding for general elections for Assembly seats is $400,000, in the Senate $800,000 and in gubernatorial races $15 million.
While the program would be entirely elective on the candidate’s part, there are provisions to address any disparity in funding between participating and nonparticipating candidates. Should a privately-funded candidate exceed a publicly funded candidate’s spending, for example, the Clean Money candidate would be eligible for matching funds from the public war chest (not to exceed five times the base funding amount).
Excess use of funds on the part of a Clean Money candidate would be subject to repayment after the election, and subject to fine if the Fair Political Practices Commission finds that such spending had a “significant impact on the outcome of the election.”
The Clean Money Fund would be established by transferring $0.01 for every California resident aged 18 or older, daily, from the General Fund. Funds would be regulated primarily by the Fair Political Practices Commission
Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) supports the bill, noting that it would lessen the influence of special interests and increase the role of public interest.
“I’d much rather spend my time talking to constituents about the issues that they care about and not have to spend as much time as I do raising money for my next campaign,” Nava said, explaining that his first campaign cost him just more than $1 million, with the second coming in at between $600,000and $700,000
“[During] your first election as an unknown, you have to spend a fair amount of money introducing yourself to the voters. Once you’re in office, the voters can then judge your performance based on the work you perform. I support [AB 583] because I think fundamentally we’re not going to change politics in this country until we have public financing in campaigns.”
He expressed doubt that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign the bill, however.
Aaron McLear, press secretary to the governor, said Schwarzenegger does not take positions on pending legislation.
Calls for comment from the Ventura County Republican Party, Ventura County Democratic Central Committee and the Green Party of Ventura County were not returned.
According to Hancock’s office, the bill is currently in state Senate elections. If signed by the governor, AB 583 would appear before the public on June 2008 ballots.