Now Playing: A test of a fair election in California, with lobbiest out of the way
Topic: BIG MONEY PLAYERS
A report from
February 26, 2010
THIS WEEK IN THE BLOGOSPHERE
A Neat Little Ballot Experiment in California
There's an interesting initiative on the California ballot this June. It's called the California Fair Elections Act, and it's an attempt to get voters to approve public funding of statewide campaigns.
But that's not why it's interesting. Public campaign funding is hardly a fresh idea after all. The basic idea behind Proposition 15 isn't that fresh, either. In a nutshell, it would require all state-registered lobbyists to pay an annual fee of $350, which supporters estimate would raise about $2 million per year. (This is a funding mechanism that, if not interesting, is certainly cheeky: The idea of making lobbyists pay the bill for a system that would undermine the influence of lobbyists is, at the very least, sort of a delicious irony.)
Candidates who want access to this money would first have to raise five dollars from at least 7,500 registered voters. Candidates who do this would receive enough money from the CFEA fund to run a statewide campaign, but only if they agree not to raise money from any other source. This is designed to eliminate the need to raise money from special interests, and it's similar to public funding laws passed in other states, including Arizona.
But that's still not why I find Proposition 15 sort of fascinating. What's new and different about it is that it's basically a beta test. It applies only to one office—secretary of state—and only to the elections in 2014 and 2018. On January 1 of the following year, it automatically disappears for good unless voters decide they like it and want to extend it.
I'm generally not a fan of ballot initiatives. They tend to be badly written, they've long since been captured by wealthy corporate interests, and they routinely expend money that doesn't exist. Proposition 15 falls into none of those traps, but what really makes it appealing to me is that I like the idea of short-term experiments. If Prop 15 fails, not much harm is done. If it works, it will have proven itself in the toughest arena of all: real life. It's a small-bore way of allowing voters to find out if they like the idea before committing themselves to a sweeping and permanent change. We could use more initiatives like this.