California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, an MIT-trained engineer, calls this state’s election system “the gold standard” for America, because it requires more openness than any other state’s. But there’s still work to be done.
For example, walk into a chain grocery store or traverse the entry of many big box stores like Home Depot, Best Buy and Costco during the season for qualifying ballot initiatives, and you could be accosted by petition carriers wanting your signature on measures you may not have heard about or understand.
But if you knew who was behind those proposed laws, who’s paying the petition carriers the usual $3 to $6 per verified voter signature, you might get a better idea what they might do than the measures’ titles ever give.
Putative ballot initiatives and their big-letter titles can be worded in deliberately misleading ways that cause many voters to help qualify proposed propositions they eventually vote against.
The 2017 Disclose Act, passed after several years’ effort by the California Clean Money Action Fund and its allies, already requires almost all political advertising to carry a “paid for by” statement in far larger type than anything elsewhere in the ad. It’s a unique law in America.
But that still doesn’t yield transparency in other areas. A new package of “disclose” bills now moving through the Legislature would fix some remaining problems, including full disclosure of major initiative funders.
The lead bill in this group, known as SB 47, would require listing the top three funders of any proposed ballot initiative prominently on petitions pushed under voters’ noses as they enter stores with almost anything but politics on their minds.
If the funder names don’t fit on the petition itself, they would have to be listed on a separate sheet circulators would have to show all voters. That could make things clumsy for circulators, so almost all top sponsors of potential propositions would show up on the petitions themselves.
Names of funders also could not be obfuscated with misleading committee names, as has often happened. This way, even if the name of a measure is misleading, many voters would still get a pretty good idea what it’s really about even if they are only marginally well-informed.