Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in Monterey. For more, see the California Progress Report.

Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, is widely known as the proposal to have the Secretary of State elected by a clean money system beginning in 2014 as a way to demonstrate the viability of the concept to Californians. But that’s not all Prop 15 does, and not the only way it can expand clean money to the rest of the state.

Prop 15 also removes a 20-year old restriction on local governments adopting clean money, and makes it easier to expand the system in the future by not requiring a follow-up vote to create public financing for other statewide races.

Here’s the background. In 1988, Proposition 68 made it to the June ballot, an initiative that would have created a public financing system for statewide elections. Polls showed it was likely to pass, so the legislature under Speaker Willie Brown, and with the encouragement of Governor George Deukmejian, placed a competing proposal on the same ballot, Proposition 73. Prop 73 provided some campaign contribution limits, but also barred anyone from being elected to office who had received public funds.

The trick worked. Legislative leaders and Governor Deukmejian joined corporations that stood to lose influence under Prop 68 to fund a barrage of negative ads, including claims that the KKK would receive public funds under the clean money system. As a result, Prop 68 passed with 53% of the vote at the June 1988 election, but Prop 73 passed with 58%, superseding Prop 68. In 1990 a federal appeals court threw out the campaign finance reforms in Prop 73, but left the ban on public funding in place.

Several attempts have been made at the ballot box to reverse the Prop 73 ban on public funding, but so far they’ve all failed. Prop 131, a less restrictive term limits measure proposed to block the ultimately successful Prop 140 failed at the November 1990 election. And of course, Prop 89 went down to defeat back in 2006.

Prop 15 would reverse the Prop 73 restriction – which is why it has to go to the ballot in the first place. If Prop 15 passes, local governments will be able to create their own publicly funded elections systems, though they’ll have to also create the funding source. The state legislature could also expand public funding to other statewide offices as well, including governor, but they too would have to create a new funding source.

As Meg Whitman dumps another $20 million into her campaign, it’s another reminder of how Californians need publicly funded elections to return democracy to this state and power to its people. Prop 15 opens the way to such reforms, and should be strongly supported. For more info on Prop 15 and how you can help pass it, go to