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Political Reform Act Filings

In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, California was the first state to pass a comprehensive political reform package. Proposition 9, known today as The Political Reform Act, was passed as a ballot measure by California voters in the June 1974 election. The initiative was championed by a tripartite group consisting of then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown, the People’s Lobby, and Common Cause. By including provisions regulating campaign finance, lobbying activity and conflicts of interest, Proposition 9 represented the most significant state-level response to the culture of corruption that was believed to be so pervasive in the pre-Watergate years.

In 1974, during the fallout from Watergate, a coalition of political reformers presented a statewide ballot initiative that they claimed would “put an end to corruption in politics.” These reform groups sought to end corruption by reducing the amount of money spent in elections and by eliminating secret or anonymous contributions. With the advent of the new law, the campaign activities and the personal financial affairs of state and local officials were subjected to greater public scrutiny than at any other time in California’s history. And the initiative directed that the law be vigorously enforced by the newly created Fair Political Practices Commission. Proposition 9 had six main provisions, it:

  1. Imposed mandatory spending limits on candidates for statewide offices and statewide ballot measure committees. However, in the landmark case, Buckley v. Valeo (1976) 424 U.S. 1, the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory spending limits were unconstitutional.
    Imposed restrictions on lobbyists. It required lobbyists to register with the state and to file reports disclosing their activity expenses.
  2. It also imposed a $10 gift limit on lobbyists and prohibited lobbyists from making contributions.
  3. Imposed strict conflict of interest laws and required state and local agencies to establish conflict of interest codes, requiring agency officials who routinely participate in decisions to publicly disclose personal financial information.
  4. Banned anonymous contributions of $100 or more and established extensive campaign disclosure laws. The underlying theory behind campaign disclosure is that an informed electorate will vote against the candidate or proposal having financial alliances adverse to the public interest. In addition, candidates are less likely to accept a contribution from a source with whom they do not want to be identified.
  5. Enacted laws to curtail incumbent advantage (e.g., a prohibition on sending “mass mailings” at public expense). Many of these laws have been tailored significantly by regulatory or court action.
  6. Created an independent centralized authority to secure compliance with the Act. Prior to the creation of the FPPC, campaign disclosure laws were rarely enforced.

In addition to creating the FPPC, Proposition 9 established strict auditing of campaign statements by the Franchise Tax Board. Prior to the Act, no systematic method existed to determine whether a candidate or committee reported all contributions and expenditures.  Often in cooperation with the FPPC, the Legislature added various provisions to the original version of the Act over the years.  For a full history of the Political Reform Act, visit the Fair Political Practices Commission.

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