CFC Rebuttal to OC Register: Vote Yes on Prop. 15

by Richard Holober, CFC Executive Director, Orange County Register

Our state’s broken campaign-finance system forces lawmakers to spend too much time begging for money from big contributors seeking favors and not enough time focusing on solving problems and representing their constituents.

Nearly $400 million was spent by candidates in California in the 2006 election ‘ and over $1 billion since 2001.

The Consumer Federation of California witnesses first hand how this "pay to play" system undermines the public interest, as one proposed consumer protection law after another is crushed under a ton of corporate special-interest donations.

Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, would change how we finance election campaigns by creating a pilot project to provide limited public financing for secretary of state candidates. The office is an ideal test. The secretary of state oversees elections and should be free from any influence ‘ even perceived conflicts of interest ‘ due to campaign contributions.

Prop. 15 removes the ban on public financing of campaigns ["Campaign finance measure flawed," Editorial, April 29]. The pilot project can be expanded if successful. It also would allow any city or county to choose public financing for local races.

Prop. 15 is strict:

‘Candidates would have to show broad public support by gathering signatures and $5 contributions from 7,500 registered voters.

‘Participating candidates would be banned from raising or spending beyond set amounts.

‘Spending limits and reporting requirements would be strictly enforced. Violators would face fines, jail time and a prohibition from running for office.

No taxpayer dollars would fund candidates. Public financing would be funded primarily by increasing the registration fees on lobbyists. California lobbyists only pay $12.50 per year, among the lowest registration fees in the country.

Fair Elections have been proven successful in eight states and two cities. Nearly 400 candidates were elected using only fair elections funding in their 2008 campaigns, and the programs enjoy popular support across party lines. Elections in those states are far more competitive ‘ unlike California, where the median winning candidate outspent the median losing candidate in 2008 by a startling 28-1.

Other benefits include lower overall campaign spending, candidates spending more time listening to constituents, increased voter turnout, and more women, people of color and less-affluent candidates competing for public office ‘ and winning.

By freeing elected officials from big donors, Fair Elections have saved voters money. Connecticut passed a bottle recycling bill generating up to $17 million annually after 81 percent of their Legislature was elected with Fair Elections. North Carolina’s Fair Elections Insurance Commissioner forced insurance companies to rebate $50 million in overcharges and rolled back rates 9.4 percent.

Fair Election systems are voluntary. No new limits are imposed on candidates that choose to raise funds the traditional way. Those seeking elected office would simply have the option to free themselves from the endless search for big money donors and the corrosive influence this financial dependency engenders.

Elected officials should be accountable to the voters, not donors and special interests. Vote Yes on Prop. 15.