NEW: Innovative Campaign Finance Resource Launched to Aid Reform in California

New interactive index & report details all local campaign finance laws in California 

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Today, California Common Cause introduced a first-of-its-kind index and report on campaign finance laws in California cities to aid activists, academics, and elected officials in their research and reform work. The report, Local Dollars and Local Democracy, documents and analyses all campaign finance reforms across California cities as of December 2022.

Findings of the report broadly show that state laws have significantly progressed municipal campaign finance reform in California and that many cities, particularly charter cities, have implemented reforms that go above and beyond what state law requires.

“California has long been a trailblazer in campaign finance reform, proposing and implementing regulations aiming to curb the negative effects of big money in politics,” said Sean McMorris, transparency, ethics, and accountability program manager for California Common Cause. “While there is no silver bullet for money’s outsized influence in our political system, this report details the myriad of good reforms that level the playing field and mitigate the distorting effects unlimited money holds over our democracy.”

Local Dollars and Local Democracy is an analysis of all campaign finance reforms in California cities as of December 2022. The report’s findings are informed by the data collected in the California Municipal Campaign Finance Index (MCFI), which is an organized and interactive accounting, composed by California Common Cause, of campaign finance laws codified in the charters and municipal codes of all California cities. To contextualize the data and findings, the report also looks at the history, current state, and potential future state of campaign finance reform in California.

The California Municipal Campaign Finance Index is intended to aid education and advocacy efforts. The MCFI can meaningfully support campaign finance reform work for anyone, like: 

  • Community activists, who can find what types of campaign finance laws exist (or don’t exist) in their city, and how nearby or similarly sized cities implement successful reforms;
  • Lawmakers, who can reference best practices in other localities while drafting their own; 
  • City attorneys, to research the statutory language different cities use for a particular type of reform; and
  • Researchers or journalists, to use the index as a starting point or springboard for studies and stories on election and campaign finance reform. 

“Though we know California leads in campaign finance reform efforts, there is still more work to be done, especially at the local level of government,” added McMorris. “As our report documents, cities can implement reforms that supplement and improve upon existing state laws.” 

Some standout findings of Local Dollars and Local Democracy include:

  • Seven California charter cities, or 1% of all CA cities, have instituted campaign public financing systems;
  • 143 California cities, 30% of all CA cities, have self-imposed campaign contribution limits (i.e., limits other than what state law requires);
  • 15 California cities, or 3% of all CA cities, have campaign-contribution-related recusal requirements (other than what is required in state law) for elected officials and/or candidates with decision-making power at city hall;
  • 99 California cities, or 21% of all CA cities, have campaign finance laws that generally increase transparency in local elections (based on qualitative criteria defined in the MCFI); and
  • Nine California cities, or 2% of all CA cities, have ethics commissions that oversee or enforce campaign finance laws.

On Thursday, May 23, California Common Cause will host a webinar workshop guiding users on how to operate and best utilize the MCFI, followed by a panel discussion with academics and local leaders on the impact and importance of campaign finance reform.

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