Money is the poisoned milk of politics, but many lawmakers have been unenthusiastic about efforts to transform the way campaign cash is tracked or donated. But 2016 should be the year that they step up and stop money from drowning out the voices of regular voters.
As part of that effort, Senators Ben Allen, Bob Hertzberg and Loni Hancock, held a public meeting on Friday on campaign finance fixes that included discussions on finally fixing the state's decrepit political money tracking website, Cal-Access, and once more trying to overturn the ban against the public financing of elections.
"Americans, but specifically Californians, are hungry for an answer to this question of money and politics," said Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng at the hearing. "They feel it is overwhelming. They feel like they don't get good information. They feel like they want to have their voices count as much as the person who can drop $5 million or $10 million" into an election.
Several of the people testifying talked about the public financing of campaigns. Efforts over the years, including by Consumer Watchdog, to end the ban of public financing, which is part of the Political Reform Act, have failed. Proposition 89, a 2006 initiative measure would have enacted a “clean money” system of campaign financing similar to those currently in place in Arizona and Maine. A similar one, Proposition 15, was on the 2010 ballot. A new one is now being circulated that just ends to the ban of public financing.
But the object should not only be financing elections but tracking all the cash, independent expenditures, lobbying, donations. The Legislature and governor have done very little to upgrade an obsolete site. As Secretary of State Alex Padilla said at the hearing, the state's online database needs to be totally rebuilt.
"The guts of Cal Access and how it’s built and how it has evolved leaves much to be desired," Padilla said. "From a technical, a coding standpoint it’s often referred to as a Frankenstein monster of code."
Another ballot initiative, California Voters' Right to Know Act, intends, in part, to set aside revenue sources to fund the replacement of the now outdated system.
The increased scrutiny of money is needed. Since 2010, nearly $2.5 billion has been spent to sway California politics, according to Secretary of State data. In the last five years, political candidates in California have received $196.6 million in campaign contributions; donors have poured $724 million into independent expenditure committees; and $1.56 billion has been spent on lobbying.
You can watch the whole hearing here: