Soapbox

Brown should sign campaign bills, strengthen democracy

Actress Rosario Dawson takes part in a demonstration on Capitol Hill in April demanding Congress that amend campaign finance laws and restore the Voting Rights Act.
Actress Rosario Dawson takes part in a demonstration on Capitol Hill in April demanding Congress that amend campaign finance laws and restore the Voting Rights Act. The Associated Press

California has led the way in a parade of democratic reforms in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that set back voting rights and clean elections.

But two campaign finance reform bills have languished on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The measures to enhance disclosure of political spending and allow citizen-funded elections should be quickly signed into law, not left to twist in the wind.

We are in the midst of a national political movement, led by California voters and community leaders, to reclaim our democracy for the people. The pending bills are part of this movement.

Voters know things are out of balance in our democracy. The wealthiest donors have outsized influence and access to our elected officials. Ordinary people’s concerns and needs aren’t getting the attention they deserve, and we are all paying the price for that. There is a persistent feeling that our government should be more responsive and transparent.

The good news is that the Legislature recently took a step in the right direction by passing these bills. Senate Bill 1349 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, would modernize California’s online campaign finance disclosure system. SB 1107 by Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, would give cities and the state the option to create citizen-funded election programs.

By approving these bills, Brown would continue California’s leadership in creating a 21st-century democracy that works for everyone.

In 2010, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court put wealthy special interests ahead of everyday people in the Citizens United v. FEC decision, California voters approved an independent citizen-led redistricting commission. California has since become a model in ensuring impartial districts, outlawing gerrymandering and promoting transparency in the redistricting process. California has also instituted stronger disclosure laws for money in politics and last year became the second state to streamline the registration process that will help register the 6 million eligible voters.

Thousands of Californians have signed petitions urging the governor to sign these two bills, which both passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature.

Upgrading the Cal-Access political disclosure website would ensure every Californian’s right to know who is trying to influence elected officials and our votes. This common-sense proposal has the support of both business and labor leaders, Republicans and Democrats.

Allowing cities and the state to empower small donors with matching public funds would give voters and local leaders the ability to take on the power of big money in politics. Californians have already seen how such programs create a more accountable government. In charter cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, small donor matching systems have enabled everyday citizens to win public office and created local governments that are more reflective of their community.

Gov. Brown should hear voters’ call for bold solutions, continue California’s leadership for democracy reform, and sign these bills into law so everyone’s voice and vote can count in our state.

Kathay Feng is executive director of California Common Cause and can be contacted at kfeng@commoncause.org. Trent Lange is president and executive director of California Clean Money Campaign and can be contacted at tlange@caclean.org.

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