Proposition 15: the forgotten election reform corollary to Proposition 14

With California’s primary election less than two weeks away, the long knives are already making appearances, as Californians hotly debate the issues on the ballot.  Obviously, the clearest example is the current controversy over Proposition 14 – also known as the nonpartisan “Top Two” open primary initiative – which has been brewing for months.

Yet, interestingly, no one seems to have noticed that Proposition 14 is scarcely the only election-oriented bit of “reform” on the ballot, nor is it the only one that could have potentially profound effects. A similar initiative has been placed on the ballot, numbered appropriately as Proposition 15.

The proposition, in short, calls for public funding of Secretary of State elections in 2014 and 2018 – a process which would be paid for primarily via increases in lobbying fees. The proposition is conceived as an antidote to what its proponents see as an excessive amount of influence by independent wealth in the political arena. Specifically, they seem to view the fact that both of the major GOP candidates for Governor are independently wealthy as cause for grave concern.

The theory underlying Proposition 15, then, is that it will expand the number of candidates running for office by permitting non-independently wealthy and non-politically connected candidates to put themselves forward and have an equal chance of winning office.

At first glance, this measure may appear to have very little at all in common with Proposition 14, which is a measure designed to winnow the potential range of candidates for the general election. However, taken together, the two Propositions do suggest a spontaneously appearing political philosophy within the electorate – namely, a philosophy geared towards challenging the current system of both ideological and political establishmentarianism.

If one presumes that both measures will have their intended effects, then whereas Proposition 14 aims to lessen the number of candidates who can run for office by only permitting the (presumably moderate) “Top Two” vote getters to appear on the general election ballot, Proposition 15 aims to widen the range of potential candidates, such that more candidates without ties to the state parties can get into office.

In short, if the two measures are carried off according to plan, they could produce a collection of moderate citizen politicians, rather than the ideological career politicians who currently occupy the California statehouse.

But would these measures necessarily achieve their goals?

There the question is more complex. For instance, it could be, as opponents charge, that the Proposition will allow public funding to crowd out private funding altogether, thus producing an entirely socialized election process. The San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

     “Prop. 15 has been endorsed by a host of government reform groups, including the League of Women Voters, California Common Cause and the New America Foundation. The measure was placed on the ballot by the Legislature, where it barely passed and received no Republican support, and the campaign is backed by the California Nurses Association. But opponents of the measure say it is much more than simply a pilot program and call it a disingenuous attempt to remove any restrictions on public financing of elections and that it could be taxpayers who wind up footing the bill for campaign spending.”

Such a system could be detrimental to California.  Voters would be prudent to more carefully examine the potential consequences of Proposition 15.