SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A California judge on Monday upheld a longstanding ban on public financing of local campaigns, invalidating reforms signed last September by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ruled that the Legislature’s changes to a proposition approved by voters in 1988 did not “further the purpose” of the measure and tossed the lawmakers’ amendments.
Ruling in favor of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Frawley agreed that only voters can remove the 29-year-old ban on public financing of local and state elections. He said the amendments “directly contradict the fundamental purpose of the Political Reform Act,” the state’s revered law limiting campaign spending and political lobbying.
“The ban on public financing was an important component of Proposition 73 and was included in the title of measure,” Frawley said in a 14-page ruling.
Frawley, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2002, also ruled for the taxpayers association and against then attorney general Brown in 2010. He found the state had used misleading language on a proposition that would have frozen provisions of California’s landmark climate change bill until the state’s unemployment rate dropped.
The judge forced the state to change the ballot title and summary, and Proposition 23 was eventually defeated by a wide margin.
At issue this time is Senate Bill 1107, signed by Brown in the run-up to the presidential and statewide election that was loaded with voter initiatives.
Supporters of the Democratic-sponsored bill said lifting the ban would allow local governments to level the playing field and support new candidates with public money. They claimed opening up tax coffers to underdog candidates would encourage competition against deep-pocketed incumbents.
“Californians are demanding greater accountability from their elected officials, and rightfully so. Anything we can do to empower communities to reduce the influence of money in campaigns is a good thing,” state Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, after the measure he introduced was signed by Brown.
But opponents, led by the conservative taxpayer association and former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, said Allen’s Political Reform Act tweaks required voter approval.
“This action challenges the Legislature’s decision to undo ‘what the people have done,’ without the electorate’s consent,” the petitioners argued in court.
The state defended the bill, saying that it was passed with two-thirds approval in both statehouses and that Proposition 73 allowed legislative amendments when it was enacted. The attorney general’s office also argued the Legislature’s amendments furthered the purpose of the measure.
The attorney general’s office referred comment to Brown’s office, which declined to comment.
State lawmakers were warned of the likelihood of challenges to SB 1107 before they voted in favor of the bill in August 2016.
“There is a good probability that this bill could result in litigation challenging whether the bill meets the statutory requirement to further the purpose of the Political Reform Act, which does not provide for public financing,” a Senate Rules Committee report stated. “The state could therefore incur significant legal costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”