New editions of the State Legislative Tracker and The Policy Tracker available now!

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

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
California Proposition 15 was on the June 8, 2010 statewide ballot in California as a legislatively-referred state statute, where it was defeated.

Proposition 15, if enacted, would have raised fees on registered lobbyists in California and used the additional revenue to provide funding for political campaigns for qualified candidates running for the Office of the California Secretary of State. Proposition 15 was initially sponsored by Loni Hancock, a Democratic state senator from Berkeley.

Proposition 15 would have approved the establishment of a pilot project that would have only applied 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]

Proposition 15 also would have repealed California's voter-approved ban on the public financing of campaigns.[2]

Election results

Proposition 15
Defeatedd No2,975,73157.3%
Yes 2,218,273 42.7%

These final election results are from the California Secretary of State June 8, 2010 results page.

Specific provisions

See also: Complete text of Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act

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 contributions from at least 7,500 registered California voters. The $5 contributions are deposited in the Fair Elections Fund.

Candidates who agree to limitations on spending and private contributions would receive a base level of funding of $1 million for the primary and an additional $1.3 million for the general election. If the opposing candidate is financing his or her campaign from private donations, and accepts no government money, or if independent expenditure groups run advertising campaigns during the election that highlight or assert negative information about the publicly funded candidate, he or she would be eligible for up to three times the original amount in additional matching funds, but no more than the total spent by the opposing candidate and independent expenditure groups.[3]

Title and summary

2010 propositions
Flag of California.png
June 8
Proposition 13
Proposition 14Text
Proposition 15Text
Proposition 16Text
Proposition 17Text
November 2
Proposition 19Text
Proposition 20Text
Proposition 21Text
Proposition 22Text
Proposition 23Text
Proposition 24Text
Proposition 25Text
Proposition 26Text
Proposition 27Text
Local measures

Ballot title: California Fair Elections Act.

Official summary (prepared by the California Attorney General):

  • This act repeals the ban on public funding of political campaigns.
  • Creates a voluntary system for candidates for Secretary of State to qualify for a public campaign grant if they agree to limitations on spending and private contributions.
  • Candidates would have to qualify before receiving the grant.
  • Candidates who demonstrate sufficient 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 with published reports open to the public.
  • Funded by voluntary contributions and a biennial fee on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers.[4]

Estimated fiscal impact (prepared by the California Legislative Analyst's Office):

Short version:

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.[4]

Lengthier statement of fiscal effects:

New State Revenues. We estimate that this measure would raise more than $6 million every four years. This includes funds from the lobbyist charge, as well as qualifying contributions. This amount would grow with inflation in future years. It is possible that other revenues would be generated from voluntary tax check-off donations and other sources.

New State Costs. The new funds would pay for costs associated with the measure. The costs paid from the new Fair Elections Fund to administer this measure could not exceed 10 percent of moneys deposited into the fund—about $600,000 every four years. The remaining funds would be available for candidates for Secretary of State who choose to receive public funds for their political campaigns. The amount of spending on the public funding of Secretary of State election campaigns would depend on a number of factors and vary from election to election. Among the factors affecting this spending would be:

  • The number of candidates accepting public funds.
  • The amount of money spent by candidates not receiving public funds (which would be a factor in determining the level of any additional matching funds payments).

Based on the amount of campaign spending for Secretary of State candidates in recent elections, total costs would most likely be between $5 million and $8 million per campaign. If there are not sufficient funds available to provide all candidates with the amounts envisioned under the measure, public funding provided to the candidates would have to be reduced so that overall expenses do not exceed the funds available to the program.

George Skelton of the LA Times commented on the short-term and long-term scope of Proposition 15:

The measure is little because it would apply only to candidates for secretary of state, hardly a target of special interest influence. And it would be a "pilot project," in effect just for the 2014 and 2018 elections ...
The most important element of Proposition 15 [is] the elimination of the constitutional ban on public financing of state candidates. The ban also covers counties and most cities.
The Legislature then could enact public financing on its own without voter permission. And so could county boards of supervisors and all city councils.
This is what Proposition 15 really is about. And that's what worries the politicians and special interests.[5]

Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee commented in April 2010 on the process used to write Proposition 15's ballot title and summary:[2]

Rather than allow the ballot summary for the measure to be written in the ordinary fashion, the Hancock bill specified how it would be described to voters – thus continuing a practice in regard to legislative measures that is, to put it mildly, cynically deceptive.
Rather than an objective summary, voters would be spoon-fed a one-sided paragraph clearly aimed at persuading them to enact it.
The most glaring omission from the legislatively decreed summary was that the measure would repeal the current ban on public financing. Opponents challenged it in court, and a judge ruled that the words "repeals ban on public funding of political campaigns" be included.
There is, however, no mention in the ballot summary of another significant section of the measure, one that, in legalistic language, says that if one section is later invalidated by the courts, other sections would remain in law.

Lobbyists in California

In California, there are:

  • 1,239 registered lobbyists
  • 383 lobbying firms
  • 3,153 "lobbyist employers."[6]


"Yes on 15" website banner

"Californians for Fair Elections" is the name of the official "Yes on 15" group. Trent Lange is its chair.[7]


See also: List of Proposition 15 (2010) supporters

Supporters of Proposition 15 include:

Arguments in favor

  • Fair election systems in place in other states have led to significant financial benefits for taxpayers. In 2008 North Carolina elected a publicly-financed Insurance Commissioner who reversed a rate increase approved by the previous, privately-funded Insurance Commissioner. This led to the return of approximately $50 million to policyholders.[19] In Connecticut, a majority-publicly-financed state legislature reversed a previous string of votes on a lobbyist-opposed recycling bill, resulting in $17 million in new state revenues.[20]
  • Candidates who voluntarily accept public financing are not indebted to corporate and lobbyist donors for their political success. "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]
  • Fair election systems enable people without wealthy connections to become competitive candidates for office.[21] This will enable better representation of minorities in government, according to Assemblymember Warren Furutani.[1]
  • Proposition 15 pays for itself and will not lead to higher taxes. Bringing lobbyist registration fees closer to the national average will raise over $6 million, enough to cover the pilot program. Proposition 15 has nothing to do with and will not affect the California Legislature's two-thirds requirement for tax increases.[22]
  • As the state's elections referee, the Secretary of State is the perfect office for a test run of public financing. "It targets an office that should be well insulated from fundraising dependence on parties and interest groups," writes the San Francisco Chronicle. "Californians have seen what can go wrong when the secretary of state is not an honest broker. Democrat Kevin Shelley resigned in 2005 amid allegations of questionable campaign contributions and his workplace conduct."[23]
  • The current system of campaign funding creates the appearance of corruption. Arizona's fair elections law was passed partly in response to a series of high-profile corruption and bribery scandals. "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.[7]
  • In states with similar election rules, most candidates voluntarily accept the public financing option. "Nearly 400 candidates from different backgrounds have been elected with this system in eight states and two cities - new people with new ideas from all walks of life, including more women and candidates from diverse backgrounds," according to San Rafael City Councilman Greg Brockbank, who is the former chair of the Marin Working Group of the California Clean Money Campaign.[24]
  • Fair elections lead to politicians spending more time and energy on governance, and less on fund raising. "Proposition 15 on the June ballot will change the way we finance election campaigns so politicians stay focused on the job we sent them to do! Prop 15 gets participating politicians out of the fund raising game and back to solving California’s problems," according to Wayne Williams, Secretary/Treasurer of California Clean Money Action Fund.[25]


Main article: Donations to California's 2010 ballot propositions

Three campaign committees filed on behalf of a "yes" vote on Proposition 15. Cumulatively, the three committees raised about $475,000.

The largest single donor was the California Nurses Association. This group donated about $200,000.[26]

See also: Vendors and consultants to California's 2010 ballot proposition campaigns

Political consultants who provided paid services to the "Yes on 15" campaign included:



"Stop Prop 15" website logo

Proposition 15 was opposed by:

Plaintiffs on the state lawsuit filed against the measure include:

Arguments against

Arguments made against Proposition 15 in the California Voter Guide were signed by:

  • Deborah Howard, Executive Director, California Senior Advocates League
  • Jack Stewart, President, California Manufacturers and Technology Association
  • Paul Weber, President, Los Angeles Police Protective League

The arguments they make in the Voter Guide include:

  • "California has many serious needs, but giving taxpayer money to politicians to fund their campaigns isn't one of them."
  • "Proposition 15 is a sneaky attempt by...politicians to undo [the prohibition]" that Californians voted on 20 years ago to prohibit taxpayer funds from being given to politicians for their political campaigns, and it "gives the [state legislature] the power to expand taxpayer financing for their own campaigns" without taxpayer approval.
  • Proposition 15 will do nothing to stop the influence of special interest money in California elections because lobbyists are already prohibited from contributing to candidates.
  • Proposition 15 is several large loopholes, such as the one that allows candidates to raise money from special interests "for their own legal defense (including criminal defense) AND even the candidate's own Inaugural party!"
  • Under Prop 15, there is no restriction on how candidates spend the taxpayer money they receive. Specifically, politicians can use the money to fund "negative ads and junk mail."
  • Proposition 15 is a hidden tax increase of over $6 million because "a hidden provision in Proposition 15 says that if the new taxes aren't enough to fund every eligible candidate's political campaign, then the Legislature can use 'any other sources of revenue from the General Fund or from other sources as determined by the Legislature.'"

Other arguments made against Proposition 15 include:

  • Richard Wiebe, Stop Prop 15 campaign spokesperson: "Proposition 15 supporters try to pass this off as a harmless pilot program that will end after two elections, but the repeal of the voter-approved ban on public financing is permanent."[27]


See also: Donations to California's 2010 ballot propositions

The campaign for a "no" vote on Proposition 15 raised about $240,000. The largest single donor was the PAC of the California Chamber of Commerce, which kicked in $20,000.

See also: Vendors and consultants to California's 2010 ballot proposition campaigns

Political consultants who provided paid services to the "No on 15" campaign included:

Editorial opinion

"Vote Yes"

"Proposition 15 helps assure that candidates for the office
are accountable to voters, not their big donors."
  • Los Angeles Times: "We're by no means sure that public financing is the solution to the troubling — and growing — problem of money in politics. It will certainly be hard for publicly financed candidates to compete against deep-pocketed candidates who opt out of the system. But it's worth a try."[28]
  • San Jose Mercury News: "Proposition 15 authors spent years studying how the strengths and flaws of other states' systems would relate to a big state like California. What they've proposed will make government more accountable to people, not special interests."[29]
  • San Francisco Chronicle: "Funding for the pilot project for the secretary of state campaigns would be drawn from an increase on the fee of Capitol lobbyists to $700 every two years. Opponents warn that the fee could be unconstitutional - and, if it is invalidated, would require a tapping of the general fund, thus putting a strain on dollars otherwise spent on law enforcement, social services and other government priorities. However, even in that worst-case scenario, the several million dollars spent on a secretary of state campaign would be a tiny fraction of the California budget."[30]
  • Fresno Bee: "At every election, we hear a chorus of complaints about the high cost of campaigns. It's not just the influence that big contributors have on public policy, it's also the impact that money has on the candidates' activities. They spend too much of their time seeking money. That means most voters -- few of them actually contribute to campaigns -- get shut out of the process as the candidates cater to the donors. The system won't be easy to change, but there's a measure on the June 8 ballot in California that offers the possibility of a better way of funding campaigns."[31]
  • Marin Independent-Journal: "Proposition 15 helps assure that candidates for the office are accountable to voters, not their big donors."[32]
  • Bakersfield Californian: "Proposition 15 frees up state and local governments to explore public funding of campaigns, and it authorizes a test case so we can see how it works."[33]
  • Lompoc Record: "We are 100-percent in favor of this measure, as one way of breaking the stranglehold deep-pocket businesses and organizations have on the electoral process."[34]
  • La Opinión: "The current campaign finance system favors those candidates with the most money. This forces candidates to continuously raise funds and accept donations from special-interest organizations. Proposition 15 is the first step toward putting an end to this dynamic that is detrimental to democracy."[35]
  • Sacramento Observer[37]

"Vote No"

"The last thing the state needs
is government-controlled political campaigns."
  • San Gabriel Valley Tribune: "Yes, campaign cash results in candidates trolling for dollars and gives big donors a seat at the legislative table. But that is an issue the Legislature and the U.S. Congress must tackle, with the give and take of the American people. It can't be solved in the fine print of a state ballot measure that's sure to cause more problems than it purports to solve."[38]
  • The Orange County Register: "Proposition 15 is a bad idea that takes the power out of the hands of concerned citizens and voters and instead puts more power in the hands of bureaucrats and public employee unions. Vote "no" on Proposition 15. The last thing the state needs is government-controlled political campaigns."[39]
  • The Santa Cruz Sentinel: "But the ballot summary still does not mention that if, as has happened in three other states, the special fee targeting lobbyists is overturned as unconstitutional, the public financing program would continue -- probably paid for by taxpayers out of our leaking state budget. And if voters find out they're being misled, they'll vote, as they should, no on Proposition 15."[40]
  • The Redding Record-Searchlight: "...this money, sooner or later, will come from the taxpayers. Proposition 15’s introduction states that the current system 'burdens candidates with the incessant rigors of fundraising.' Poor dears, after all those chicken dinners, their suffering is no doubt profound, but burdening their constituents instead hardly seems like the right solution."[41]
  • The Visalia Times-Delta: "Frankly, we have our suspicions about whether politicians would be able to keep their hands out of the cookie jar of public campaign funds. This proposition promises that taxpayer money would not end up in the fun. And where have we heard that before? California keeps trying to reform campaign finance law, and it just gets more complicated and corrupt. This proposition doesn't get the job done. Even if it worked, it only would be temporary. That doesn't demonstrate any sort of true conviction for reform."[42]
  • Napa Valley Register: "As for Proposition 15, at a time when the state can’t pay for even core services or reduce its crushing debt, Proposition 15 seeks to raise registration fees on lobbyists — not in itself a bad idea — but then spend the money on taxpayer funding of campaigns, which decidedly is not a core service."[43]
  • Chico Enterprise Record: "We can think of many reasons to tax lobbyists, but to help fund political candidates is not one of them."[44]


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.[45]

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."[45]

State/Free speech

Similarly, Michael P. Kenny of the Superior Court of Sacramento County dismissed on November 20, 2009 a state lawsuit filed against the measure. The lawsuit had been filed on August 25, 2009 by the Institute of Governmental Advocates (IGA), an association of professional lobbyists and lobbying firms, and several independent registered lobbyist employers and lobbying firms. 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.[6]

Judge Kenny ruled that the plaintiffs could not pursue their lawsuit until and unless voters approve the measure. The plaintiffs have appealed this decision to California's 3rd District Court of Appeal.[46]

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.

However, on May 21, 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the lower court ruling in the Arizona case and upheld the funding mechanism on a 3-0 vote, stating:

Plaintiffs bemoan that matching funds deny them a competitive advantage in elections. The essence of this claim is not that they have been silenced, but that the speech of their opponents has been enabled. We agree with the First Circuit that the First Amendment includes "no right to speak free from response — the purpose of the First Amendment is to secure the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources."[47]

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.[48]

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.[48]

"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.[49]

Conflict with Top Two?

See also: California Top Two Primary (2010)

Opponents of another measure on the June 8 ballot, Proposition 14, the Top Two Primary, say that the two measures may be in conflict with each other. If they are in conflict, the Section 4 of Article XVIII of the California Constitution decrees, "If provisions of 2 or more measures approved at the same election conflict, those of the measure receiving the highest affirmative vote shall prevail."[50]

Richard Winger says:

"The two election law measures that will be on the June 2010 California ballot do not fit together. The public funding measure has at least eight sections that presume that political parties nominate candidates for state office, and that independent candidates do not appear on the primary ballot. But the top-two open primary sets up a scheme under which parties would not have nominees for state office, and also provides that independent candidates would run in the primary."

Proponents of Proposition 15 argue that conflicts between the two measures can be resolved through minor legislative fixes. The Yes on 15 campaign and several principal proponents, including the League of Women Voters and California Common Cause, are neutral on Proposition 14. Likewise, the Yes on Proposition 14 campaign is neutral on Proposition 15.[51] AARP supports both measures.[52]


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.[53]

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.[54][55]

External links

Suggest a link

Basic information

Smart Voter California explanation of Proposition 15




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Long Beach Press Telegram, "Ballot measure would help minority candidates," September 6, 2009
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sacramento Bee, "Campaign financing initiative quite unfair," April 19, 2010
  3. Business Week, "Ballot measure would test public campaign funding," May 11, 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 Official summary of Proposition 15
  5. George Skelton, LA Times. "A little proposition with big potential." April 22, 2010
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Sacramento Bee, "Lobbyists sue to block campaign-finance ballot measure," November 8, 2009
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 KCBS, "Proposition 15 Campaign Kicks Off," February 21, 2010
  8. AARP Bulletin, "Two Government Reform Measures on June 8 Ballot," May 1, 2010
  9. California Church IMPACT
  10. California Clean Money Campaign
  11. Los Angeles Times, "California Democratic Party convention wrap-up," April 19, 2010
  12. California Labor Federation
  13. California NAACP
  14. California NOW
  15. California Nurses Association 2010 Endorsements
  16. League of Women Voters of California
  17. Sierra Club California
  18. Alan Grayson: "Don't mess this up, California." May 15, 2010]
  19. Chase Foster, California Clean Money Campaign. "Voter-owned elections helps save millions."
  20. Amanda Cuda, Connecticut Post. "Mixed Feelings on Water Bottle Bill in State." October 1, 2009
  21. San Francisco Chronicle, "Proposition 15 calls for public funding of elections," May 23, 2010
  22. San Jose Mercury News, "Editorial: Vote yes on Proposition 15," March 31, 2010
  23. San Francisco Chronicle, "Proposition 15 is worthy test of 'clean money', April 25, 2010
  24. Marin Independent Journal, "Marin Voice: Proposition 15 takes us a step toward fair campaigning," May 2, 2010
  25. Beyond Chron, "Getting Out the Vote for “Yes on Proposition 15," May 5, 2010
  26. Campaign donors to "Yes on 15"
  27. Associated Press, "Ballot measure would test public campaign funding," May 10, 2010 (dead link)
  28. Los Angeles Times, "Money and Politics," April 22, 2010
  29. San Jose Mercury News, "Vote yes on Proposition 15," March 31, 2010
  30. San Francisco Chronicle, "Proposition 15 is worthy test of 'clean money'," April 25, 2010
  31. Fresno Bee, "EDITORIAL: Vote 'yes' on Proposition 15, public election funding," May 19, 2010
  32. Marin Independent-Journal, "IJ's choices for state propositions," May 10, 2010
  33. Bakersfield Californian, "Campaign reform: Vote yes on Proposition 15," April 24, 2010
  34. Lompoc Record, "Initiatives, confusion in primary," May 14, 2010
  35. La Opinión, "Yes on Proposition 15," May 22, 2010
  36. Eastside Sun, "June 8, 2010 Ballot Recommendations/Recomendaciones para Votar"
  37. Sacramento Observer, "Oberserver 2010 Primary Election Recommendations" (dead link)
  38. San Gabriel Valley Tribune, "Our View: Proposition 15 is not the answer," May 8, 2010
  39. Orange County Register, "Proposition 15: Campaign finance measure flawed," April 28, 2010
  40. Santa Cruz Sentinel, "No on flawed Proposition 15," May 11, 2010
  41. Redding Record-Searchlight, "Taxpayers don't need burden of campaign costs," May 13, 2010
  42. Visalia Times-Delta, "Proposition 15 doesn't get the job done," May 14, 2010
  43. Napa Valley Register, "No on 14 and 15," May 18, 2010
  44. Chico Enterprise Record, "Yes on 13, 14, no on the rest," May 19, 2010
  45. 45.0 45.1 Mercury News, "Lawsuit challenging 'clean money' proposal dismissed," June 16, 2009
  46. Sacramento Bee, "Lobbyists can't kill measure before it passes, judge says," December 17, 2009
  47. McComish v. Bennett(2010) (PDF)
  48. 48.0 48.1 Los Angeles Times, "Judges review language of state ballot measures," March 13, 2010
  49. Los Angeles Times, "Superior Court judge sides with Proposition 15 supporters in voter-manual dispute," March 15, 2010
  50. Ballot Access News, "Do Two California Ballot Measures, Both on the June 2010 Ballot, Conflict with Each Other?," January 23, 2010
  52. AARP Bulletin, "Two government reform measures on June 8 ballot." May 1, 2010
  53. Contra Costa Times, "Voters like pilot public campaign finance measure," October 26, 2009
  54. Los Angeles Times, "The Next Special Election: April? May? June?," February 9, 2009
  55. Los Angeles Times, "With budget stalemate over, next move is up to California voters," February 20, 2009

Additional reading