California Proposition 15 facing uphill battle

June 1, 2010 7:04:47 PM PDT
On the June ballot, voters will get to decide whether to lift a ban on publicly-financed political campaigns. Proposition 15 would open the door to taxpayer-funded races throughout the state, paid for through a tax on lobbyists.

East Bay State Sen. Loni Handcock authored the proposition.

"Prop 15 will allow the people of California to begin to get special interest money out of politics," she says.

Prop 15 sets up a voluntary pilot program of public financing for the Office of Secretary of State. Handcock says over 80 percent of Connecticut's politicians have been elected with public financing.

"And the same holds true for Arizona and Maine, which are states that have complete public financing as a voluntary option," she adds.

Hancock says the money to pay for the campaigns would come from increasing registration fees on lobbyists. Opponent Richard Wiebe says that fee hike would be challenged in court and if struck down, taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

"It's the general fund, the same pool of money that pays for teachers and police officers and firefighters," Wiebe says. "They're going to be stuck with the bill for political campaigns. We don't think that this is the time to do that."

Wiebe's firm represents lobbyists and business interests that are paying for the "No on 15" campaign. Their latest campaign filing shows they have raised $150,000. Supporters of Prop 15 have raised about that same amount, but two-thirds of it, or $100,000, is coming from the California Nurses Association which had its own campaign finance measure soundly defeated in 2006.

"Californians don't like subsidizing speech they disagree with," says ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain, who believes Prop 15 faces an uphill fight. As we saw in the last presidential race, candidates reject public financing when there is a lot at stake. "The people that take public financing are generally the weaker candidates; the ones that can raise money, generally do, and they don't want the restraints that come with the deal of taking public financing, because usually the deal is if you take the public financing, then you can only spend up to a certain limit."

Prop 15 lifts the ban on public financing of political campaigns, meaning that cities or counties could set up their own publically-financed campaign systems, bearing in mind that the last time a similar proposal was put before the voters, voters rejected it 3 to 1.


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