Capitol Alert

Public financing of elections could expand in California

Naomi Johnson, 93, Rebecca Unga, 39, Rachelle Jennings, 22, and Larry Harrington, vote on Tuesday November 4, 2008.
Naomi Johnson, 93, Rebecca Unga, 39, Rachelle Jennings, 22, and Larry Harrington, vote on Tuesday November 4, 2008. rbyer@sacbee.com

Publicly financed election campaigns, long a goal of reformers who decry the role of money in politics, could proceed in many California locales under legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown Wednesday.

Such campaigns have been largely prohibited in California since 1988, when voters both barred publicly financed campaigns and imposed limits on direct campaign donations. Publicly financed campaigns essentially give public dollars to qualified candidates, whether it’s a match to private donations or a public lump sum that limits taking private money.

Charter cities were exempted from that prohibition, allowing for some public funding for elections in cities that include Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. But non-charter cities and counties still can’t use the option.

Senate Bill 1107, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, would overturn that ban. With denunciations of the corrosive effect of political money now an article of faith for voters across the political spectrum, supporters of SB 1107 called public financing a worthwhile alternative. The measure passed the Assembly 55-22 and the Senate 27-12, scraping together the minimum two-thirds vote needed.

“These programs are intended to provide candidates with alternatives to reliance on large campaign contributions,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “They also help amplify the voices of people who make small donations.”

Critics said SB 1107 amounted to an attempt to override the will of voters.

“The voters have been asked if they wanted to allow publicly financed campaigns an they have said no every time,” said Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach. “We shouldn’t take away money away from education, transportation, affordable housing to fund political campaigns.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

  Comments