Guest Opinion: No on Prop 54: a special-interest power grab

DAVID MONNIAUX [CC BY-SA 3.0] / COMMONS
DAVID MONNIAUX [CC BY-SA 3.0] / COMMONS
There’s been a lot of talk about big money and the power of special interests in our elections this year. Proposition 54 embodies the worst of both.

Prop 54 is on the ballot solely because one California billionaire, who, after spending millions of dollars trying to influence California policy and elections, is now using our citizen initiative process to pursue his own political agenda. Not a single other Californian has made a contribution to this measure. Not one.

The billionaire, Charles Munger Jr., has dumped more than $10 million of his own money into securing passage of this measure. (For the record: Munger is one of the largest donors to California GOP legislative candidates and contributed $100,000 to a SuperPAC that supported failed GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina last year.)

Mr. Munger’s interest in Prop 54 seems to be straightforward: he wants to slow down the progress being made by California’s legislature. And that’s understandable — the Palo Alto billionaire fought against increases in education funding, pension reform and other causes the Legislature has taken up to move our state forward.

Under the guise of “transparency,” Prop 54 will introduce unnecessary new restrictions on the way laws are crafted by the Legislature. It will empower special interests to pry apart carefully negotiated legislative agreements through arm-twisting and other tactics by requiring all legislation to be put on hold for 72 hours before lawmakers can vote on it.

Special interests already have too much power in Sacramento. Prop 54 will give them more power.

Legislation like the Fair Housing Act (which ended housing discrimination), last year’s bond measure to address California’s drought and this year’s hikes in the minimum wage would have likely never have happened if this measure had been enacted. Neither would our state’s landmark climate change law or dozens of other laws that took months to negotiate.

Former State Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg said that if Prop 54 was in place during the bipartisan 2009 budget deal — which offended just about every special interest in Sacramento — the state would have gone bankrupt.

Why? Because every special interest in Sacramento was getting its ox gored, and its lobbyists were using backhanded tactics to prevent fee hikes (which the Republicans didn’t want) and spending cuts (which the Democrats didn’t want). Had that agreement been put on hold for 72 hours, lobbyists would have had the time to rip it to shreds.

Another dangerous provision of Prop 54 will allow the use of legislative proceedings for political advertising.

That will lead to two things: grandstanding by lawmakers who want to use official footage for their campaign ads as well as the use of snippets of legislators for use in attack ads. It’s for that reason that neither the United States congress nor 45 other states allow it. Yet Prop 54 would rewrite our constitution to permit it.

Proponents of Prop 54 say that the measure will reduce the power of special interests. If that’s the case, why are so many special interests in Sacramento — left and right — lining up behind it? Do they really think they support Prop 54 because it will weaken their ability to influence of legislators? Of course not.

There are parts of Prop 54 that are well-intentioned, including requiring all legislative hearings to be accessible to citizens.

But read the fine print: the poison pills included in this initiative far outweigh its benefits.

Steven Maviglio, former press secretary for Gov. Gray Davis and communications director for three Assembly Speakers, is Chairman of Californians for an Effective Legislature. For more information, visit www.NoOnProposition54.com