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Prop. 15: Public finance of state elections

May 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
On June 8, California voters will decide whether to pass Proposition 15. Backers call it the "Fair Elections Act." It's designed to get politicians out of the fundraising game. But opponents say it could cost taxpayers.Politics is a tough business, and in California it is also an expensive business. Advertising campaigns this cost millions, which means you either have to be rich, or have the backing of big business, or big labor to really make a run for office. And that's what the supporters of Proposition 15 hope to change.

"That's the problem right now, and that's a problem for the public. When politicians have to run their campaigns on money from their special-interest donors that want something in return, the public, the taxpayers pay the price," said Trent Lange, chairman of Californians for Fair Elections, the Yes On 15 Campaign.

The proposition calls for public financing of campaigns. If passed, it would clear the way to allow public financing of the secretary of state race. And Lange is hoping that would be just a start.

"It starts out as a pilot project, but then it should be expanded later on if it's successful, as we think it will be," said Lange.

The proposition would raise money for the campaigns by increasing registration fees on those who lobby lawmakers in the state. Currently lobbyists pay about $12.50 a year. Prop. 15 would increase that to $350 per year.

But opponents fear it would be expanded to include tax revenue from the state's general fund.

Of course, at a time when the state is having financial trouble, plenty of people are opposed to this idea.

"We're laying off teachers, we're laying off police officers, we're laying off firefighters," said Richard Wiebe, spokesman for the Stop Prop 15 Campaign. "This is not the time to divert tax dollars away from important programs."

Opponents admit the current system is broken and the money has a lot to do with it, but they are also convinced using public money will only make matters worse.

"I don't have the answer, I just know that Prop. 15 is not the answer," said Wiebe.

"No" is the answer voters have given two other times when measures like this have appeared on the ballot.

But supporters are hoping the state's dire condition will finally convince Californians it is time to give public financing a chance.

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