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Significant political reforms passed out of CA Senate Elections Committee

CA State Senator Alex Padilla
CA State Senator Alex Padilla

Senator Alex Padilla, candidate for CA Secretary of State, has introduced five significant political reform bills that were passed out of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee on Tuesday.

First, Senator Padilla has introduced four bills that together comprise are a package of bills authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) to strengthen California’s Political Reform Act. Proposals include timely reporting of all contributions, fundraising blackout period, public access to campaign funded communications, and a prohibition on running for more than one office at a time.

Specifically, Senator Padilla’s political reform package includes the following four bills:

Legislative Blackout Period (SB 1101)

Twenty-nine states place restrictions on giving and receiving campaign contributions during the legislative session. In some states, the ban applies only to contributions by lobbyists, principals and/or political committees; other states have a general ban on contributions.

This bill would create a fundraising blackout period in California.  It would prohibit solicitation or acceptance of campaign contributions by a member of the legislature during the 100 days immediately preceding the last day of the legislative session, the last day of session, and seven days immediately following the last day of the legislative session.  The blackout period would be in place during critical budget votes and at the end of legislative session when large volumes of bills including last minute “gut and amend” measures are up for votes.

Timely Disclosure of Contributions (SB 1102)

Most states have moved forward with online disclosure of campaign contributions.

Current California law only requires bi-annual reporting in non-election years.  Timely disclosure is limited to very large contributions and contributions made as Election Day approaches.  For example, contributions of $5000 and above must be reported electronically within 10 days and contributions of $1000 and above must be reported within 24 hours within 90 days of an election.

This bill would require contributions of $100 or more to be electronically reported within 24 hours during the 90 days preceding an election and within 5 business days the rest of the year not covered by the blackout period. The bill would apply to campaigns for elective state offices including the legislature, constitutional offices and the state board of equalization.  It would also apply to independent expenditure committees supporting or opposing these offices and statewide ballot measure committees.

One Office at a Time (SB 1103)

Currently, it is perfectly legal to declare an intention to run for more than one office at a time.  By simply expressing the intention to run for multiple offices an official may open multiple campaign committees. These multiple campaign committees can potentially be used to cumulatively raise far in excess of the established campaign contribution limits.

This bill would prohibit an officeholder or candidate from declaring their candidacy and raising money for more than one state elected office at a time.

Disclosure of Campaign Communications (SB 1104)

Four cities in California including Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Palmdale and Berkeley require public disclosure of campaign communications.  The states of Montana, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma also require public disclosure of campaign communications.

This bill would require campaigns for elective state offices including the legislature, constitutional offices, the state board of equalization as well as independent expenditure campaign committees supporting or opposing these offices and statewide ballot measure campaign committees to electronically file with the Secretary of State’s Office campaign-funded communications, as defined by the Political Reform Act, within 24 hours.

Senator Padilla commented on his legislative proposals in a press statement released yesterday.

“As the 40th anniversary of the California Political Reform Act approaches, I believe we have an opportunity and a responsibility to make it stronger,” said Senator Padilla. “The reforms I am proposing would provide a clearer view of the source and use of campaign money and reduce the likelihood of an unseemly overlap of public policy and campaign contributions,” added Padilla.

“These bills would improve transparency and disclosure by requiring weekly reporting of campaign contributions, create a fundraising blackout period during the end of the legislative session, prohibit candidates from raising money for more than one office at a time and provide immediate full public disclosure of campaign funded communications,” said Senator Padilla.

“A lack of timely disclosure of campaign contributions keeps the public from knowing who has made a contribution and who has received one as it happens. This is of particular concern toward the end of the legislative session as the fates of hundreds of bills are decided while fundraisers abound. This overlap of critical votes and fundraising erodes the public’s faith in legislators’ ability to keep the two separate. Current law governing disclosure keeps the public and the press in the dark much of the year. Denying the public and the press timely disclosure fuels distrust. While our current system does provide full public disclosure, it lacks timely full disclosure,” Padilla said. “I want to change that,” added Padilla.

SB 1365 to amend the California Voting Rights Act

vote-buttonAdditionally, a bill to strengthen voter protections under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was approved today by the Senate Committee. SB 1365 also by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) expands the CVRA by explicitly prohibiting school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election.  Current law only allows a challenge of at-large elections.  The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

History of the California Voting Rights Act

In an effort to protect voting rights in California, the Legislature approved and Governor Davis signed the CVRA. The CVRA expanded upon the federal Voting Rights Act by requiring that at-large elections not have the effect of diluting or denying the political representation of minority groups. As a result, California has seen many challenges to at-large elections and many school boards, cities, and counties have transitioned from at-large elections to district elections.

Unfortunately, nothing in state law protects minority voters from districts drawn to dilute their influence. Moving from at-large elections to district elections is only an improvement if the new district boundaries are drawn fairly. Poorly drawn districts can have the same negative impact on voter turnout and representation as at-large elections. SB 1365 will create a process for the public to challenge poorly drawn district lines that undermine the influence of minority communities.

“SB 1365 will strengthen and protect voting rights in California,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “As California becomes increasingly diverse we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected,” added Padilla.

On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder weakened important protections of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act of 1964. In the wake of the Shelby decision, a broad coalition of civil rights organizations have come together to strengthen voting rights in California. Working with the ACLU, MALDEF, NAACP, NALEO, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) and others, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) introduced Senate Bill 1365.

“The Supreme Court drastically weakened the federal Voting Rights Act with their Shelby decision. Over the past two years, 180 bills to restrict voting rights were introduced in 41 states,” Padilla said. “California should be a beacon of voting rights and civic engagement. Protecting the voting rights of all voters is our best path forward,” Padilla added.

“This legislation promotes fair election systems ensuring that all eligible voters enjoy an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” Robert Rubin, Co-Author of original CA Voting Rights Act of 2002.

These proposed legislative reforms represent a significant attempt to reform what is clearly a broken system. The people of California hare rightfully skeptical of the motives and actions of politicians at all levels of government, both state and local. The 2/3 threshold to amend the Political Reform Act will be tough to achieve in both houses of the legislature. Also, Governor Jerry Brown has not yet signaled whether he would support the proposed reforms if they reach his desk.

We’ll be watching the progress of this legislation and let you know what happens as the bills move through the legislature.