Bob Stern, godfather of the 41-year-old effort to expose and reduce the corrosive role of money in politics, is working with others to offer California voters their best chance to limit the damage of Citizens United by preventing hyper-wealthy campaign donors—many from out of state— from hiding their identities behind nonprofits.
Stern, among many other civic-minded roles the secretary-treasurer of Californians Aware, a year ago professed his open disappointment with Governor Jerry Brown’s indifference to contemporary efforts at political reform. Now Stern has reported to friends and colleagues recently:
I wanted to update you on a new statewide ballot initiative that I helped write, which amends the Political Reform Act of 1974 (Prop. 9, which passed by 70% of the voters). I co-authored that original measure while working for then Secretary of State Jerry Brown.
We’ve gotten good coverage on NPR and in the Washington Post and the Sacramento Bee. We expect a Title and Summary from the Attorney General sometime in October and then will begin gathering signatures to put it on the November 2016 ballot.
Here is summary of the goals of the measure:
> establishing a state constitutional right to regulate the raising and spending of money to influence elections and governmental decisions, just as Californians now have a constitutional right to privacy and access to open records and public meetings.
> enacting tough provisions to ensure that dark money (undisclosed contributions) are revealed by campaigns in a timely manner;
> enhancing and updating the Secretary of State’s website so that campaign money and lobbying expenditures will be easily accessed by the public;
> improving ad disclosure so that it is clear on the face of the ads who is funding them;
> banning lobbyist and lobbyist employer gifts;
> reducing gifts that can be received by all public officials from $460 to $200;
> increasing the revolving door restriction from one year to two years for state elected officials; and
> increasing penalties for those who violate the Political Reform Act.
Comment: Charles Bell, probably California's leading election lawyer advising politicians, campaign committees, and substantial donors to political warchests, criticizes the initiative for being in part nothing new and in part a serious threat to free political speech. By this he apparently means free political money, since what it deters is neither public nor private expression of facts or ideas on political issues, but covert funding of political combat. But coincidentally, a letter to the editor appearing in today's Sacramento Bee highlights why essentially any hope for accomplishment of any major reform need facing government depends on how easy it is to either buy, rent or cow those who make the laws—or don't.
When gun control will work
Re “10 killed in ‘horrific’ shooting at college” (Page 1A, Oct. 1): There will be meaningful gun control in the U.S. when there is a law against any organization or individual giving money to any person who stands for public office, when legislators are prohibited from taking gifts from those with a stake in any legislation under consideration and when the legislators themselves do not stand to profit more than any other citizen from the legislation.
The financing of campaigns should be limited to funds provided by the government. Until then, we will have the best government that the money of billionaires can buy, and firearms manufacturers will be able to put a gun in the hands of anyone.
David Hobbs, Sacramento