Radical and significant alterations of state government — good and bad — are more likely to come from ballot propositions rather than the Legislature. Voters increasingly frustrated with Sacramento have turned more and more to the initiative process. A new example is a possible ballot measure for the June 2012 ballot.
Mark Bucher, a longtime Orange County political activist, filed the initiative with the state April 1 and told us he is assembling a bipartisan, "good-government coalition." He says the only way to reform the state is to limit both corporate and union influence. The initiative is currently being circulated in Orange County among potential supporters. It is written in a way that might tap into voter angst over the power of special interests in the Golden State.
The Stop Special Interest Money Now act would essentially restrict corporations and labor unions from making direct campaign contributions to candidates. It is a message with enough populist appeal that it might just energize voters.
According to stopspecialinterestmoney.org, the initiative's major provisions include:
• Prohibiting "corporate and labor union contributions to candidates";
• Banning "government contractors from contributing money to government officials who award them contracts";
• Disallowing "corporations and labor unions from collecting political funds from employees and union members using the inherently coercive means of payroll deduction";
• Making political contributions strictly voluntary.
If a measure with such provisions became law, it would change the electoral landscape in the state.
Voters are becoming more keenly aware of the entrenched power of special interests in the state government. It is no secret that there appears to be a correlation between campaign spending and laws approved by the Legislature. The Stop Special Interest Money website notes two disconcerting statistics, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News: 40 percent of bills in the state are "sponsored by special interest lobbyists, and these bills are more than twice as likely to become law."
It's too early to judge the impact on political speech — so much campaign money now goes to issue advocacy ads and does not go directly to candidates. But the initiative looks as though it will correct some of the operational abuses in how political dollars are collected.
The measure's success, though, will hinge on the scope of the coalition assembled to back it.