California Takes Major Step Toward Citizen-Funded Elections

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  • David Vance
Gov. Brown Signs Bill for Local Choice as California Continues to Lead Nation

Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to give citizens a greater voice in California’s democracy. With the U.S. Congress gridlocked, California is leading a wave of pro-democratic reforms passed at the state and local level across the country. Senate Bill 1107, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, gives local governments and the state the choice to enact citizen-funded election programs. California Common Cause sponsored the bill with the California Clean Money Campaign.

“More than anything else that will happen this year, the California legislature is affirming that voters are serious about democracy reform, and politicians are going to have to listen,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause president. Hobert Flynn led the fight for Connecticut’s Citizen Election Program which is now in its fifth election cycle and enjoys broad public support and 74% candidate participation. “By lifting the ban on commonsense laws that ensure free speech isn’t something afforded only to a wealthy few, California ensures every voter has a say in their family’s future,” Hobert Flynn added.

“California’s leaders are hearing from voters who are fed up with playing second fiddle to wealthy special interests,” stated Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “This bill gives Californians new options to amplify the voices of everyday voters in election campaigns.”

In the wake of this clean elections victory, citizens will go to the polls on Election Day to vote on citizen-funded election proposals in Berkeley, CA, Portland, OR, Washington State and South Dakota.  Momentum continues to build around the country where voters and elected officials continue to pass democratic reforms at the state and local level.   

The California bill allows local governments or the state to enact citizen-funded elections programs, which give candidates an alternative to relying on wealthy donors. Programs could offer public funding to candidates, as long as any funds are available to all qualified, voluntarily participating candidates for the same office without regard to incumbency or political party preference. Six charter cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have such programs, but current state law bans counties, districts, general law cities, and the state from enacting them.

The bill passed with a bipartisan two-thirds vote in the Legislature and was endorsed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, numerous local governments and elected officials, and more than 30 organizations, including California Common Cause, California Clean Money Campaign the ACLU of California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California, CALPIRG, the California Labor Federation, the California League of Conservation Voters, the Campaign Legal Center, and the League of Women Voters of California.

“This legislation will enable citizen-funded elections to take root across the state and allow elected officials to concentrate on representing their constituents instead of worrying constantly about raising money or living in fear of offending deep-pocketed special interests,” said Flynn.  “Citizen-funded elections return democracy to the people by limiting the ability of the very richest in our society to buy undue influence.”

On the Federal level a coalition of reform groups and citizens across the country urging House and Senate candidates to answer a detailed “Who Will Fight Big Money?” questionnaire so voters can make informed choices when selecting the next Congress. More than 200 candidates have responded so already. Their responses are posted here.