Voters’ Right to Know Update
First, the bad news.
In March, the petition drive to place the Voters Right to Know Act (VRTK) – intended to address systemic issues in California’s campaign finance and disclosure laws – on the November 2016 ballot was suspended. Jim Heerwagen, proponent/funder who was paying petition circulators to collect most of the signatures (700,000), was unable to secure the additional funds he had been counting on to match his own contribution. He had collected about 200,000 paid signatures, and volunteers like you and me had collected about 15,000.
Now, the good news.
The initiative effort has had important impacts on bills before the Legislature. First, the VRTK’s disclosure provisions, stronger than those of the Legislature’s previously watered-down California DISCLOSE Act, were put into the DISCLOSE Act (AB 700, Gomez-Levine). Then the Legislature, noticing the large number of people circulating and signing the VRTK initiative, passed AB 700 in the Assembly on January 27 with a 75%, bipartisan vote (every Democrat, nine Republicans). And this time, there was no opposition from the leadership of statewide labor unions. The California DISCLOSE Act establishes a first-in-the-nation requirement that political ads clearly disclose their top three true funders on the ads themselves, and uses language nearly identical to the VRTK initiative.
Second, SB 1349, introduced in February by Senator Bob Hertzberg to modernize Cal-Access, the Secretary of State’s lobbying and campaign filings database, has passed the Senate Elections committee and is now in Appropriations. SB 1349 thus puts in place one of the most important parts of the VRTK initiative, mirroring ideas in VRTK such as a unique identifier for each donor and improved search tools for the public to access these important disclosures. It also makes filing easier.
AB 1200 (Gordon), introduced last year and revived this year in February, is another active bill with tough disclosures similar to those in the Voters’ Right to Know initiative. AB 1200 extends laws on lobbying to require those seeking government contracts to register as lobbyists.
With all the attention paid to the disclosure in the VRTK initiative, AB 700 is now in a much better position to pass the Senate and to be signed into law by the Governor. Jim Heerwagen and his Voters’ Right to Know team are now working with the California Clean Money Action Fund in support of AB 700 and SB 1349. The fight against Dark Money continues.
Sacramento is starting to respond to the tremendous anger about Big Money in politics. Thanks in part to all the volunteers who worked so hard for the Voters’ Right to Know initiative, the Legislature has put the major ideas into several separate bills:
SB 1349 (Hertzberg) greatly increases transparency with a new California campaign disclosure website.
AB 2523 (Mullin) requires city and counties to have contribution limits in their races.
AB 1828 (Dodd) closes conflict of interest loopholes on the powerful Board of Equalization.
SB 976 (Vidak) stops the obscenity of legislators quitting their term and quickly taking a job lobbying.
SB 254 (Allen/Leno) puts Prop 49, the Overturn Citizens United Act, back on the ballot!
And, don’t forget SB 1107 (Allen), which repeals California’s ban on public financing of campaigns!