A Ballot Initiative to Reform ... Initiatives ; California Will Vote on a Broad Campaign-Finance Measure That Includes Limits on Corporate Donors

Article excerpt

Perhaps more than any state in the nation, California loves its ballot initiatives. Over the years, citizen-led initiatives in the state have sparked tax revolts, imposed a "three strikes" law on criminals, and spurred stem-cell research.

This election year, amid concern that special-interest money and deep-pocketed corporations are unduly influencing statewide initiative campaigns, a new ballot measure comes before California voters on Nov. 7. Proposition 89 would, among other reforms, limit the amount companies and organizations can contribute to ... what else? Citizen ballot measures.

If Prop. 89 passes, the state would be the first to limit corporations' donations for initiatives - an area of election law that the measure's backers see as ripe for challenge in the courts.

The proposed caps are just one piece of Prop. 89, a sweeping measure that would also provide for public financing of candidates' campaigns (via a tax on certain businesses) and reduce the amount individual donors can give to candidates for office. If Prop. 89 were to pass, many of its provisions are expected to be challenged in court on grounds that they curtail the free-speech rights of campaign contributors.

No broad polls have yet gauged Prop. 89's popularity. Its backers cite statewide polls showing that 64 percent of likely voters believe campaign contributions negatively affect public-policy decisions - and that 92 percent feel special interests control the state's initiative process.

"We have a massive problem with money in politics - a transactional system in which the biggest spenders give money to politicians and get favors in return," charges Charles Idelson, communications director for the California Nurses Association (CNA), the union that is Prop. 89's official sponsor. "This has a huge impact on the daily lives of Californians, and the problem is a microcosm of the problem with political campaigns nationwide."

The 70,000-member CNA decided to pursue campaign-finance reform after last year's defeat of a labor-backed ballot initiative that would have curbed prescription-drug prices. It cites $80 million in campaign contributions from drug companies. The union says "clean money" laws elsewhere, notably in Maine and Arizona, have established a track record that points to higher voter turnout, more candidates, more competitiveness, and some reduction in total money spent on elections.

Prop. 89 - also known as the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act - would transform California politics, political analysts say. Elections in the state have recently been distinguished by a string of record-spending Senate, gubernatorial, and initiative campaigns, even as voter participation has dropped to its lowest in 80 years. …


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