California Proposition 15, Public Funding of Some Elections (June 2010)

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California Proposition 15 is on the June 8, 2010 statewide ballot in California as a legislatively-referred state statute.

Proposition 15, if enacted, will assess fees on registered lobbyists in California and use the additional revenue to provide some funding for political campaigns for those running for the Office of the Secretary of State of California. Proposition 15 was initially sponsored by Loni Hancock, a Democratic state senator from Berkeley.

The proposal Californians will vote on in June 2010 is for a pilot project that will only apply to political campaigns for the Office of Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018. In those election seasons, under Proposition 15, candidates for California Secretary of State would qualify for political campaign funds if they agree to spending prohibitions and if they are able to raise $5 contributions from at least 7,500 registered voters.[1]

Specific provisions

Under the act, lobbyist employers and lobbying firms in California would have to pay $350/year. This would raise about $1.7 million a year to go into a fund to support the campaigns of candidates for the office of California Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018.

A candidate for secretary of state who wanted to gain access to this public funding would have to first gather signatures and $5.00 fees from at least 7,500 registered voters. The $5 fees are deposited in the Fair Elections Fund.

Ballot label details

Ballot title: California Fair Elections Act.

Official summary: Creates a voluntary system for candidates for Secretary of State to qualify for a public campaign grant if they agree to strict spending limits and no private contributions. Each candidate demonstrating enough public support would receive the same amount. Participating candidates would be prohibited from raising or spending money beyond the grant. There would be strict enforcement and accountability. Funded by voluntary contributions and by an annual fee on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers.

Estimated fiscal impact: Increased revenues (mostly from charges related to lobbyists) totaling over $6 million every four years. These funds would be spent on public financing for campaigns of Secretary of State candidates for the 2014 and 2018 elections.

Lobbyists in California

In California, there are:

  • 1,239 registered lobbyists
  • 383 lobbying firms
  • 3,153 "lobbyist employers".[2]


"Californians for Fair Elections" is the name of the official "Yes on 15" group. Trent Lange is its chair.[3]


See also: List of Proposition 15 (2010) supporters

Supporters of Proposition 15 include:

Arguments in favor

  • "This would make it possible for candidates to reject big money from special interests and still run a competitive campaign", according to Derek Cressman, Western states regional director for Common Cause.[1]
  • Proposition 15 will help minority candidates, according to Warren Furutani.[1]
  • "We've got a scheme here really would take all that special interest power out of our election system," according to state senator Mark Leno.[3]


Proposition 15 is opposed by:

Plaintiffs on the state lawsuit filed against the measure include:

  • Jericho: A Voice for Justice.
  • Police union lobbyist Tim Yaryan and Yaryan's law firm
  • The Los Angeles Police Protective League
  • California Professional Firefighters.[2]


See also: 2010 ballot measure litigation

Federal/First Amendment

Federal judge Frank Damrell dismissed a lawsuit on June 15, 2009 brought by plaintiffs who were seeking to have the proposition removed from the June 2010 ballot on the grounds that it imposes a tax on their constitutionally-protected right of First Amendment expression. The plaintiffs were the Institute of Governmental Advocates, Jericho: A Voice for Justice, Timothy Yaryan, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and California Professional Firefighters.[4]

Damrell dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that it was premature because the proposition hadn't yet been approved by voters. He wrote, "In this case, the threat of application or enforcement of the allegedly unconstitutional provisions in AB583 — though theoretically possible — is not reasonable or imminent. Indeed, these provisions may never be enacted."[4]

State/Free speech

The Institute of Governmental Advocates (IGA) filed a state lawsuit against the measure on August 25, 2009. The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Sacramento County courtroom of Michael P. Kenny. Jackson Gualco, president of the IGA, said that his group believes the proposed measure:

  • Unfairly restricts their free speech rights
  • Unconstitutionally restricts people's right to petition their government.[2]

Judge Kenny ruled on November 20, 2009 that the plaintiffs can't pursue their lawsuit until and unless voters approve the measure. The plaintiffs have appealed this decision to California's 3rd District Court of Appeal.[5]

Other states/First Amendment

Courts in Arizona and Vermont have struck down similar statutes that required lobbyists to pay fees to fund political campaigns on the grounds that placing these requirements on lobbyists was an "impermissible burden" on their First Amendment rights.

Ballot language

"No" against "Yes"

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court arguing that Proposition 15's ballot title and summary were misleading and inaccurate. Among other things, they wanted the court to change the ballot title to say "Public Financing of Campaigns" rather than "California Fair Elections Act". On March 12, Sacramento Superior Court judge Patrick Marlette issued the court's decision on the lawsuit.[6]

Judge Marlette:

  • Rejected most of HJTA's proposed changes.
  • Added a line to tell voters that Proposition 15 repeals California's existing ban on public funding of campaigns.[6]

"Yes" against "No"

Supporters of Proposition 15 had also filed a lawsuit. In their lawsuit, they challenged language submitted for the official voter guide by Proposition 15 opponents that said that Proposition 15 "will raise your taxes". On Monday, March 15, Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley agreed with Prop 15 supporters, and ordered that phrase removed from the ballot pamphlet.[7]

Polling information

See also: Polls, 2010 ballot measures

Lake Research Partners conducted a telephone survey of 800 likely voters in October 2009. This survey suggested that 63% of voters are positive toward the ideas in this ballot initiative.[8]

Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided
Oct 19-23, 2009 Lake Research Partners 63% 22% 16%

May 19, 2009

It was once thought that AB 583 would appear on the May 19 ballot in California.[9],[10]

External links

Basic information




Additional reading