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The California Dream:

Using Public Financing of Elections to Build an Inclusive and Multi-Racial Democracy Powered by Small Donors

Authored by Noah Cole

The California Dream begins with a statement of the problem: Big money has too much influence in California’s democracy, which drowns out the influence of small donors and makes policymakers disproportionately responsive to monied interests. One potential solution to the influence of wealthy special interests and millionaire donors in our politics is the one focused on here: providing public funding to candidates through small donor matching funds or democracy dollars, also known as democracy vouchers. These systems have the power to build a more equitable and representative political system and to get us closer to the goal of a fully participatory multi-racial democracy. Currently, California’s constitution prohibits the use of public funds in state and some local elections. This report envisions a world in which that prohibition is repealed, and state-level public financing programs can be pursued. 

This report provides two key recommendations for building a small donor democracy in California and is intended for use by policymakers, activists, and researchers interested in designing and implementing publicly financed elections at the state level in California. Although the report is framed to inform a policy campaign for providing public funds to candidates for California legislative offices, it can also be used by City Councilmembers, local advocacy groups, and City Attorneys interested in implementing public financing on the local level.

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