Initiative Petition Disclosure Bill Introduced by Senator Ben Allen

SB 651 Will Require Initiative Petitions Circulated by Paid Signature Gatherers to Disclose Their Top 3 Funders

Friday, February 17, 2017

SACRAMENTO, CA — A new bill to require that initiative petitions circulated by paid signature gatherers must clearly disclose their top 3 funders was launched with the introduction of SB 651 by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica).  SB 651 is sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign.

"Every election season, voters are bombarded with requests to sign initiative petitions by paid signature gatherers who aren't required to disclose or even know who's paying for the initiatives they've been hired to qualify," said Senator Ben Allen, author of SB 651.  "SB 651 will make sure voters know who's behind the initiatives they're being asked to help put on the ballot."

A dizzying 115 initiatives qualified for circulation for the 2016 election, with a near-record 17 measures actually appearing on the November 2016 ballot.  Except for Proposition 59, which was put on the ballot by the legislature after passage of a citizens-led legislative campaign for SB 254 (Allen), all the propositions qualified only after their sponsors spent a million dollars or more paying for signature gathering, with voters rarely knowing who they were.

SB 651 as now planned would instead require initiative petitions circulated by paid signature gatherers to clearly display the names of their top 3 funders in a disclosure box similar to that proposed for print mailers in AB 14, the California DISCLOSE Act (Gomez-Levine).  Signature gathering firms would be required to ensure that their paid circulators use updated petitions within two weeks if a new contributor becomes a top 3 funder.

As introduced, SB 651 mirrors the language of AB 400, a 2014 bill by then Assemblymember Paul Fong that passed the legislature before being vetoed by Governor Brown due to concerns about the practicality of reprinting initiative petitions in the time allotted to collect signatures.  Planned amendments to SB 651 will address those concerns through changes such as dropping the number of required contributors from 5 to 3, by saying that changes only in ordering don't require reprinting, and by only applying to initiatives circulated by committees having contributors of $50,000 or more.

"California's initiative process was created over 100 years ago to allow voters to bypass the special interests who had a stranglehold on Sacramento," said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign, sponsor of SB 651.  "Unfortunately, special interests now often abuse the very process that was meant to limit their power by spending millions to qualify deceptive initiatives. Voters deserve to know who they are before being asked to sign."

Californians from all major political parties have overwhelmingly stated their support for greater disclosure of who funds initiatives.  A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California in October 2013 found 84 percent of likely California voters favored legislation to increase public disclosure of funding sources in initiative campaigns.  Those in favor include 80 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Independents.