Money in Politics

money in politics image of dollar bill at the capitol showing corruption

Learn more about LWV California's and the National League's position and research on this issue.


This continues to be a high priority for League members. A bill allowing local government bodies to establish public campaign funding systems is still in limbo, awaiting the outcome of a court challenge. We will continue to work for state legislation to establish default limits on the size of campaign contributions to local candidates, and Leagues can push their cities, counties, and districts that do not have contribution limits to establish limits appropriate to their communities. At the state level, we have been, and will continue to, monitor the implementation of the Cal-Access replacement system (CARS) for online disclosure system. We continue to support legislation requiring campaign finance transparency.


Recent news:

  • AB 1089 FAILED - would have placed contribution limits on local elected offices, but it failed to get out of Assembly Appropriations. View our recent Action Alert.


SB 1107 signed into law!

The League strongly supports SB 1107 (Allen), which will give local governments and the state an important new option to strengthen the accountability of our elections. It permits counties, districts, general law cities, or the state to enact citizen-funded election programs, like those already in six charter cities.

SB 1107 was signed by the Governor on September 29. We told him how important it was to sign SB 1107!

More info about SB 1107, which will take effect January 1, 2017:

Present Law:  
The Political Reform Act of 1974 prohibits a public officer from expending, and a candidate from accepting, public moneys for the purpose of seeking elective office. This prohibition was established by Proposition 73, passed in 1988, which banned all public financing of campaigns in California. This ban was defined by the courts as not applying to charter cities, so the prohibition today is on state government, all county and regional governments, and general law cities.
SB 1107 will:

  • permit a candidate or elected official to accept public money for a campaign if a local government agency or the state has established a dedicated fund that is available to all qualified and voluntarily participating candidates for the same office without regard to incumbency or political party
  • require that surplus campaign funds of any state or local elected official convicted of a felony carrying a lifetime ban from elective office be deposited in the General Fund.

Why Does the League Support The Bill?

  • SB 1107 will combat public cynicism and promote maximum citizen participation in the political process.

    In the past several years, particularly since Citizens United, there has been increasing public concern about our system of campaign finance and the potentially corrupting role of large donations from private interests in our democracy. A New York Times poll in May 2015 found almost half their sample favored a major overhaul.

    Regrettably, research suggests legislators in general place the interests of donors before the interests of the general electorate.
  • Localities have been exploring alternatives which might restore public confidence in our representative democracy. SB 1107 would permit counties, districts, general law cities, or the state to enact citizen-funded election programs, like those already in six charter cities.

    In New York City, a small donor matching fund (6 to 1 match for contributions up to $250) increased public participation in giving by over six times, and the small donor pool was much more diverse and more reflective of the electorate.

    In Seattle last November, over 60 percent of voters opted for a system in city elections in which each registered voter would receive four coupons worth $25 each, and could choose to donate those vouchers to candidates who have agreed to participate and who have accepted strict limits on spending and on receiving private donations.

    Under public financing systems, candidates can spend their campaign time in communication with voters, rather than spending half their time calling for donations.
  • Since the 1988 ban on public financing in California, only charter cities have been able to explore this option.

    Major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento have adopted public financing, as well as smaller cities such as Richmond, Santa Rosa, and others.

    The current ban on public financing in California prevents innovation and modernization of our campaign finance system. The state, counties, general law cities, and districts cannot explore alternatives to private and special interest donations.

    SB 1107 is permissive and restores local control.

    This bill does not create a public financing program or require any government to offer public financing. However, it provides an option for innovation while safeguarding public money from inappropriate use.    

SB 1349 also signed by the Governor!

Governor Brown signed SB 1349 (Hertzberg) on September 29, to overhaul Cal-Access, the antiquated online database of campaign and lobbying information. Read the press statement.


The Role of Money in California Politics

Bring Sunshine to Campaigns!

2013-2014 Money in Politics Bills

The LWVC is supporting campaign disclosure bills to help voters follow the money and see who is funding political activity. These bills increase transparency, improve the disclosure process, and close the loophole that allows nonprofits to contribute huge sums in California elections without disclosure. Read our fact sheet.

"Dark Money" News!

On October 24, 2013, the California Fair Political Practices Commission announced a settlement in the case of secret money donated to the campaign to defeat Proposition 30 and support Proposition 32 in the November 2012 election. The settlement includes a record $1 million fine, based on two donations, one for $4 million, and one for $11 million. Neither of these donations were properly reported according to California law. The Sacramento Bee story is here.

In January 2014, the FPPC announced that in addition to the $1 million in fines imposed on the nonprofits that made the donations, judgments had been obtained against the California committees that accepted the money. Those committees were ordered to forfeit to the state General Fund the amounts they had accepted in laundered funds, a total of $15 million. Although both committees accepted the judgment, only $300,000 has been paid to the state. Even so, the FPPC’s chief enforcement officer pointed out that the combined penalties will be “a serious deterrent to any future efforts to hide the true source of money spent in California elections.” Read more.

SB 27: Preventing Dark Money Contributions in  Future Campaigns

In order to ensure that cases like this are not repeated, the LWVC strongly supports SB 27 (Correa) , which will ensure that the original sources of all political donations are reported. SB 27:

  • Establishes conditions under which nonprofits and other organizations that make campaign contributions or expenditures are required to disclose the names of their donors
  • Requires the FPPC Web site to include a list of the largest contributors to committees that support or oppose state ballot measures or candidates
  • Will take effect July 1, 2014.

Follow the Money

Millions of campaign $$$$$ are flowing everywhere in our elections. You can track some campaign financing and public funding for federal and state elections. Information available on the Web will allow you to discover who is contributing money, who receives the money and how the money is spent on two different websites.

Follow the Money: Elections 2012

Candidates and Elected Officials

 CAL-ACCESS: Statewide Campaign Financing Information 

The California Secretary of State provides links to various areas of financial information about candidates, campaigns statewide and by state Senate and Assembly campaigns.

Ballot Measure Campaigns: 

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC)

 The FPPC website tracks contributions from major donors to the state ballot measures. 

CAL-ACCESS: Statewide Campaign Financing Information : Propositions & Ballot Measures

The California Secretary of State provides links to various areas of financial information about campaigns supporting and opposing propositions and ballot measures.

How to Navigate the Cal-Access website:Start here to view propositions and ballot measures:

On the web page Propositions and Ballot Measures, you must first, choose an Election cycle:

  •  2011 and 2012, or
  •  “Historical” for links to information about financial activity in elections during 1999-2010.

CLICK on the name of a proposition to see a list of all of the political committees formed to support or oppose that particular proposition. 

 View Information:choose

  General Information page and you will see a list of committees supporting or opposing the ballot measure.

  • CLICK on the name of a committee to see a summary of contributions and expenditures through the latest reporting period (e.g.,through 6/30/10).
Use your browser's back button to return to the proposition title page

 View Information also provides more links to pages providing detailed information regarding:

  • contributions received and contributions made
  • expenditures made and late independent expenditures
  • late and $5000+ contributions received and late contributions made after the last reporting period
  • electronic filings

The Contributions Received page has the detail of all contributions through the latest reporting period.

The Late and $5000+ Contributions Received page has the detail of late and larger contributions included under “Contributions Received” plus large contributions made subsequently.

To get complete information on the most significant contributions, it is necessary to gather information from both of these Web pages. You can download the information from both pages into an Excel worksheet, which allows for easier filtering of the data.

To start another search, go to the Menu on the upper left hand side of the page and choose Proposition and Ballot Measures.

Use the PRint/PDF icon at the top of the page to print these instructions.

Campaign Finance Regulations

State Elections – The Role of Money in California Politics

The Secretary of State’s Political Reform Division administers provisions of the California Political Reform Act. The revolutionary law, passed overwhelmingly by the voters in 1974, requires that, ”receipts and expenditures in election campaigns should be fully and truthfully disclosed in order that the voters may be fully informed…”

Detailed disclosure is required from campaigns supporting or opposing state and local candidates and ballot measures. Expenditures made lobbying the state Legislature must also be disclosed.

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), created by the Political Reform Act, regulates:

  • campaign financing and spending
  •  financial conflicts of interest
  •  lobbyist registration and reporting
  • post-governmental employment
  • mass mailings at public expense
  • gifts and honoraria given to public officials and candidates.

Federal Elections – the Role of Money in Congressional, Senate and Presidential Elections

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) administers and enforces the campaign financing laws governing federal elections. The duties of the FEC include enforcing limits and prohibitions on contributions, disclosure of campaign finance information and overseeing the public funding of Presidential elections.

Who is funding Senate and Congressional campaigns in California? Follow this link on the FEC Web site for Summary Disclosure Reports, by state, candidate or party.

Learn more about the federal campaign finance regulations and requirements with Quick Answers on the FEC Web site.

Our Work Nationwide On Campaign Finance Reform

We work with Leagues across the country on campaign finance reform. We have an extensive history of working on this subject. We also have clear priorities and goals. Read more about this on our national League web site.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post


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