Charles Munger Jr. explains his legislative transparency initiative
As wealthy Republican donor Charles Munger Jr. looked on from the gallery, the state Senate on Thursday advanced a measure it hopes will replace Munger’s expected ballot initiative requiring that bills be publicly available for 72 hours before they can be taken up for a vote.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 14, which would also mandate that visual recordings of all legislative proceedings be posted online, passed 27-8 and moves next to the Assembly for consideration. If approved, it will go before California voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“We agree on the goals,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who wrote the measure. “But before putting the language in concrete through the initiative, I believe we have an obligation to try and get the details right through a public process.”
Munger and former Republican lawmaker Sam Blakeslee last month turned in more than a million signatures to qualify their initiative for the ballot, prompting lawmakers to introduce a similar proposal last week that they said would address ambiguities in the language. They aim to pass SCA 14 and persuade Munger and Blakeslee to pull their version before a June 30 deadline.
But Munger and Blakeslee have been highly critical of the Legislature’s approach, which they argue weakens their intentions by requiring the 72-hour waiting period only for the final vote on a bill, rather than the vote in both houses, and by changing the way the state would pay for the recordings. A companion bill that implements the provisions of SCA 14 could also be changed by a simple majority vote.
Members of the Senate spent an hour Thursday debating the differences between the two measures and which approach was superior.
“How is this an improvement over what we know is going to be on the ballot already?” asked Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine. “You see, crowding the ballot with many initiatives that try to accomplish the same thing can be used as a tool to kill both initiatives, thus leaving constituents without the transparency that they so desire.”
Ultimately, only Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, joined the majority Democrats in voting for SCA 14, giving it the necessary two-thirds support it needed to clear the Senate. During the 2014 election, Munger’s independent expenditure committee spent more than $900,000 backing another Republican against Stone.
“I will always fight for the policy and do what’s right on behalf of my constituents, irrespective of how much money is thrown against that which I believe in,” Stone said on the Senate floor Thursday.
Upstairs, Munger stifled a laugh as Stone suggested that future lawmakers would be unlikely to roll back the transparency objectives of the measure.
Following the vote and a private conversation with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León – the first time, they said, they had ever met – Munger said he would be willing to “engage in the process” of developing a substitute to his initiative. But, he added, the legislative proposals must “have the teeth in them to guarantee the access, even if future legislatures are hostile.”
Munger declined to specify what changes he would need to see in a compromise measure in order to pull his own from consideration, pointing to hours of testimony at committee hearings he had participated in earlier in the week that could be found online.
“If you want to know what I said and what my views are, you can go watch that,” he said.