At a time when voters are voicing concerns about the prevalence of ‘big money’ in politics, Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) and Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San José) have introduced parallel bills, SB 24 and AB 270, to restore control to local governments and the State by allowing them to enact new options for election campaign funding.
Five California charter cities currently empower voters by providing public financing matching funds or democracy vouchers to help voters support qualified candidates, but state law currently bars counties, districts, general law cities, and the State from offering public funds for campaigns. SB 24 and AB 270 would put a measure on the November 2024 ballot to remove the ban.
In 2016, the Legislature passed SB 1107 (Allen), signed by Governor Jerry Brown, which would have removed the ban, but the courts ruled that the question must be put before the voters. SB 24 and AB 270 would do so by putting a measure on the November 2024 ballot.
“In historic votes, overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both Houses of the Legislature voted seven years ago to give local governments and the State the option to enact public financing laws,” said SB 24 author Senator Umberg, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s long past time for California voters to have their say in the matter and SB 24 and AB 270 will do exactly that on next year’s ballot.”
“Public financing of campaigns is the best way to empower voters, increase diversity of candidates running for office, and give voters confidence that Big Money can’t just buy their elections,” said Assemblymember Lee (D-San José), author of AB 270.
Elected officials and those running for office spend a significant amount of time soliciting donations. Public financing of campaigns can reduce the influence of money in elections and lead to more diverse candidates running for office that better reflect the communities they seek to represent.
“Voters across the political spectrum know that the crushing expense of campaigning can prevent great candidates from making it through the electoral process. This bill creates a path by enabling public financing systems that reduce reliance on special interests and amplify the voices of grassroots communities,” said Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), the author of SB 1107 of 2016 and now a joint author of SB 24.
Seventy-nine percent of likely California voters said that Big Money campaign contributors have too much influence over elected officials in California, and 68 percent said that ordinary voters have too little influence, according to a 2019 poll by the California Clean Money Campaign. That may be why voters in charter cities have passed public financing measures by large majorities when given the opportunity. Seventy-five percent voted for Los Angeles’ Measure H in 2011; 65 percent voted for Berkeley’s Measure X1 in 2016, and 74 percent voted for Oakland’s Measure W last year.
A broad coalition of state, local, and national organizations supported SB 1107 in 2016, and over 57,000 Californians signed petitions urging the legislature to pass it and Governor Brown to sign it.
“It was very disappointing for the courts to rule that the legislature doesn’t have power to give local governments and the State the option to pass public campaign financing laws,” said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign, sponsor of SB 24 and AB 270. “That’s why we’re so grateful that Senator Umberg and Assemblymember Lee are taking the lead to give voters the opportunity to remove the ban on public financing and thereby give counties, districts, general law cities, and the State the ability to explore publicly funded election systems that work for them.”
By allowing California voters to remove the ban on public financing, SB 24 and AB 270 will give local governments and the State the same flexibility to explore better campaign funding options currently available to only charter cities. SB 24 will be heard in the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee and AB 270 will be heard in the Assembly Elections Committee this month.