Why Political Reform Matters in California

In the post-Nixon era of the 1970s, a series of revelations from the Watergate commission created the environment for political reform nationwide and especially so in California. Proposition 9, or The Political Reform Act was passed as a ballot measure by California voters in 1974 and set a precedent for future good governance proposals statewide. It’s worth analyzing what political reform activities have achieved in California and to understand how this can be relevant for our state’s future policy decisions and legislative actions.

The main set of changes that Proposition 9 initiated are:

  • Creation of new spending limits for candidates in statewide elections and statewide ballot committees (subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976)

  • Restriction on lobbyist gift-giving and a requirement that all lobbyists register and disclose their lobbying expenses, while prohibiting them from donating to candidates

  • Development of conflict of interest laws while mandating that state and local agencies develop rules to mitigate any impropriety in the leadership of decision-making agencies

  • Banning of anonymous contributions above $100

  • Imposing rules to reduce incumbent advantage in elections

  • Establishment of a compliance body in the Fair Political Practices Commission

These changes to the political landscape were envisioned to help curb the influence of concentrated wealth on elected officials and in theory, lead the way to better, more responsive policies.

Stemming the influence of money on politics is an important aspect to reduce corruption and to let ideas compete with each other on their merits. As we move forward into a future that is rapidly changing, we need a government that can be nimble and responsive to these new challenges. Political reform above and beyond what Proposition 9 envisioned will be necessary again as we move forward and new sources of campaigning, influence peddling, and dark money pools start to impact our political process.