The California Political Reform Act of 1974 established a ban on any public officer from accepting and spending any public funds for the purpose of seeking elective office. All elected offices as the state level and most local level offices are covered by this ban. Proposition 15, or The California Fair Elections Act, on the June 8, 2010 ballot would reverse this restriction by establishing a Fair Elections Fund which would be used to support the campaigns of candidates in the Secretary of State races in 2014 and 2018. The Legislature could vote to extend this expiration date. Proposition 15 would allow up to 10 percent of all money deposited to the Fair Election Fund every four years to pay for administering the program. The fund would be made up of funds primarily supplied by increased charges on lobbyists and qualifying contributions to candidates. The state legislative analyst estimates that the proposition would raise more than $6 million every four years.
The California Fair Elections Act originated as AB 583 (Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley), which passed the Legislature in September 2008. The act was passed after a section was amended to not include the governor's race and elections for two legislative seats, leaving only the Secretary of State race.
Charges to Lobbyists
Currently, all lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers must register with the Secretary of State every two years and pay a $25 fee. Under Proposition 15, the amount would be raised to $350 per year which would be deposited in the Fair Elections Fund for campaigns. The proposition requires that these charges be adjusted for inflation in the future. The increase in lobbying fees would form the core source of money for the Fair Elections Fund.
Primary Election Campaigns
Major party candidates who seek money from the Fair Election Fund would be required to collect qualifying contributions from 7000 registered voters. At $5 a contribution, the qualifying total would be $37,000. Candidates in other parties must collect qualifying
contributions from 3,750 registered voters for a total of $18,750. Candidates who do not seek these funds would pay for their campaigns under current rules.
Participating major party candidates would receive $1 million for their primary election campaign. They would receive matching funds to equal the amount spent by nonparticipating major party candidates and outside organizations. Candidates could receive up to $4 million of these funds. Minor party candidates would receive $200,000 in funding under the measure. In order to receive the matching funds available to the major party candidates, they would have to collect 15,000 qualifying contributions for a total of $75,000.
General Election Campaigns
Proposition 15 also establishes rules for candidates seeking to use Fair Election Fund monies for general election campaigns. A qualifying major party candidate is required to have participated in the public financing program during the campaign for the primary election earlier in the year. Independent candidates who are not affiliated with any political party would be required to collect 15,000 qualifying contributions to receive the same level of public financing in the general election as major party candidates. Major party candidates would receive a base funding of $1.3 million plus additional matching funds to equal the amount spent by nonparticipating major party candidates and outside organizations. They would be eligible for up to an additional $5.2 million. Minor party candidates would receive $325,000 in base funding.