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Legislature Passes Santa Monica Senator’s Bill for Public Campaign Financing
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 2, 2016 -- A bill authored by California Sen. Ben Allen, whose district includes Santa Monica, that would allow public financing of political campaigns at the state and local level passed in the Senate on Thursday. The Assembly approved the bill on Wednesday.

The Senate vote on SB 1107 was 27-12 and mostly went along party lines with all but two supporters being Democrats and all but one vote against it coming from Republicans.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill before the September 30 deadline, it would allow state and all local governments to create public campaign financing programs. Currently only charter cities can to do this. Santa Monica is a charter city.

“This is a long overdue reform that will enable local governments to enact public financing systems for campaigns if they want to,” said Allen in a statement that appears on his website.

He added, “People across the political spectrum are fed up with the campaign funding arms race that candidates must engage in when running for office. With the enactment of this measure, we will create a path to a sensible alternative.”

The bill has a long list of supporters, including co-sponsors California Common Cause and the California Clean Money Campaign.

Two organizations are on record opposing SB 1107 -- the California Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

California and local governments that are not charter cities have been unable to create public campaign finance programs since 1988.

The prohibition was included that year in a voter-approved initiative, Proposition 73. That measure also placed limits on how much money donors could contribute to campaigns.

Six charter cities provide “limited public funding to match small campaign contributions” according to the analysis of SB 1107 on the Senate’s website.

Those cities are Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Richmond, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Proposals for public campaign financing in Santa Monica have not been successful.

Following a divisive City Council campaign in 2006 that included significant spending, Councilmember Kevin McKeown led the charge to bring public financing to Santa Monica.

This led to a lengthy discussion at a March 2007 council meeting in which various concepts were debated, including a City staff plan for candidates to receive $100,000 or more in seed and matching grant money (“Council to Explore Public Campaign Financing,” March 13, 2007).

The council voted 5-1 (with Bob Holbrook opposed) at that meeting to direct staff to explore various options (“Council Votes to Explore Alternatives to Public Financing for Campaigns,” March 15, 2007).

But when the issue came back to the council in October, the majority were not interested in pursuing any plan further. Then-Mayor Richard Bloom and Councilmember Pam O’Connor said public financing raised free speech issues.

A motion at that meeting from McKeown for staff to look into the creation of a Fair Fight Fund that candidates could tap into to respond to negative campaigning only garnered the support of then-Councilmember Ken Genser (“Council Rejects Fair Fight Fund,” October 25, 2007).

Campaign spending continues to be high in Santa Monica. Sue Himmelrich spent $160,000 of her own money in a successful council run in 2014.

That made her the top self-spender in Santa Monica history, beating Bobby Shriver’s $125,000 from 10 years earlier (“Himmelrich Spent $160,000 of Her Own Money to Win Santa Monica Council Seat,” February 3, 2015).

Several other candidates spent high five-figure amounts two years ago in winning and losing efforts.

However, the other two winners that year, O’Connor and McKeown, did not use any of their own money. O’Connor raised $60,000 and McKeown collected $43,000 from supporters.

The first round of campaign finance statements for the current council race and other local contests are due at the end of the month.

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