California—In the wake of a $2.5 million contribution by Sacramento developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos to the Democratic Party, and a day before the deadline for filing campaign contributions, a new report released today by the California Clean Money Campaign provides new details and analysis to show the depth of how money dictates politics in California. The report, entitled “Money Dominates California Elections and Incumbents Dominate Money: The Problem and the Proposition 89 Solution” is based on an analysis of campaign finance filings from the Political Reform Division of the California Secretary of State’s Office for state races between 2002 and 2004. It documents the dominant effect of spending on races in California, the huge disparities in spending between incumbents and challengers, and how the public financing provided to qualified candidates in Proposition 89, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, would level the playing field for challengers by drastically reducing those disparities.
“The Tsakopoulos $2.5 million dollar sham issue ad against Schwarzenegger is a blatant attempt by one multimillionaire to skirt contribution limits to get his favorite candidate elected,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of the California Clean Money Action Fund. “This is exactly the type of outrageous campaign environment that Proposition 89 is designed to change.”
Under Proposition 89, so-called sham issue ads would be considered a contribution on behalf candidates they intend to help, so Tsakopoulos’ contribution would be considered a contribution on behalf of Democratic candidate for Governor Phil Angelides and would be subject to strict limits.
Major findings and accompanying color graphs include:
- The candidate spending the most money wins 95% of the time-- the analysis shows that the candidate who spent the most won over 95% of the time in all California state elections from 2002-2004, including Assembly, State Senate, and statewide races.
- Even the frequent open seat primaries created by term limits are largely uncompetitive in campaign funding. The report says, “Spending levels weren’t usually even close. The second highest spender managed to come within 20% of the highest spender's expenditures in competitive open-seat races a total of only 12% of the time.”. The candidate who spent the most won 93% of all open-seat races and 81% of all contested open-seat races.
- Incumbents outspent their challengers by over 4-1 overall. Incumbents nearly always spend the most money in primaries 100% of the time, in general elections 97% of the time.
- Prop 89 could make gubernatorial races more competitive and could reduce the cost of the elections depending on candidates’ choices. An analysis of the last governor’s race in 2002 shows that incumbent Democrat Governor Gray Davis outspent Republican challenger Bill Simon by almost 2 to 1 and won the election. If either candidate voluntarily qualified for and accepted public financing of elections, they would have been provided enough extra funds to match their opponent. If Gray Davis or both candidates had “run clean” (as they say in other states that have public financing of elections) it could have reduced the over all money in the gubernatorial election by 25 to 35 million dollars and made incumbent challenger Bill Simon competitive with Gray Davis.
- Prop 89 would level the playing field—The report concludes that by injecting public money into California’s electoral system, challengers would be able to run competitively and more open seat primaries would be competitive. This would reduce the power of incumbency and provide more of a chance for voters to express their displeasure with current affairs.
“The voters out there may wonder why their choices are so constrained on November 7th ,” said Trent Lange, author of the report and Vice President of the California Clean Money Campaign. “Our analysis shows that special interest money is the main determinant of election outcome, regardless of how districts are cut. By injecting clean public money into the system, Prop 89 would lead to more competitive races in the vast majority of cases, especially when incumbents are involved, and that would lead to more voter choice.”
If passed by California voters on November 7th, Proposition 89 would establish a voluntary “Clean Money” system for full public financing of election campaigns modeled upon successful programs already in place in Arizona and Maine and recently adopted by Connecticut. It is designed to level the election playing field, open up the ballot to more good candidates, and stop political corruption by making elected officials accountable to voters, not big money donors.
Copies of the report and power point should be downloadable from the homepage www.caclean.org soon.