Since the California ballot initiative process is fast becoming a billionaire's club, some lawmakers want to make it even more difficult – for grassroots efforts. If a $2,500 California ballot filing fee hike is passed, it's moving through the Legislature now, it will be larger – by five times – than any other state in the nation.
Twenty-six states have some type of initiative or referendum process, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. A review found that only five states, including California, indicate they charge a fee to file a petition with a relevant agency. The filing fee for Mississippi is $500; California, $200; Alaska, $100; Ohio, $25; and Washington, $5. Most of the other states charge nothing.
AB 1100, by Assembly members Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, increases the ballot initiative filing fee from $200. The bill was prompted by an outcry over a proposal that targeted gays and lesbians, and the authors say it is in attempt to stop frivolous initiatives. It originially was to be increased to $8,000. After it passed the Assembly, it was amended to $2,500. A state Senate committee passed it today. It now heads to Appropriations.
Consumer Watchdog still opposes the bill despite the change. A hike wouldn’t stop outrageous proposals but would, instead, raise another hurdle to citizen initiatives ever getting off the ground. This is especially true because groups that are serious about initiatives typically submit multiple versions of the same measure before moving forward with the one with the best chance for success. This means that legitimate initiatives are likely to pay not $2,500 but double or triple that in practice.
The deck is already stacked against grassroots efforts. In 2014, Consumer Watchdog sponsored a health insurance reform initiative, Proposition 45. It would have given the state Insurance Commissioner the power to regulate health insurance rates the way that auto, home and business rates are in California. This was after more than a decade of trying to overcome opposition in the Legislature for any type of real rate regulation.
Insurance companies spent nearly $60 million on misleading and outright deceptive ads to kill Prop. 45.
Now the Legislature, under the guise of combatting homophobia, is considering a fee hike that would increase the dominance of moneyed interests and decrease the chances for the people to use the power of direct democracy as a last resort.
Read Consumer Watchdog's letter of opposition here: