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With Prop. 54, a Chance to Limit Special Interest Influence

Voters will finally have the opportunity to limit back-door dealmaking and deception in the California state legislature by approving the California Legislature Transparency Act (CLTA) this November.

The CLTA, which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 54, would require the state legislature to publish the text of legislation online and in print at least 72 hours prior to holding a final vote in either legislative house. It would also require recordings of all public proceedings to be posted online within 24 hours and stored for at least 20 years in a publicly-accessible database.

By requiring a waiting period prior to the passage of bills, Prop. 54 would strike a fatal blow to one of the principal tools of legislative trickery. Termed “gut-and-amend,” the practice, which involves taking a bill which has arrived at the floor of the Legislature and replacing its contents with entirely new provisions, enables legislators to quickly approve controversial measures and bypass the committee process, circumventing public scrutiny and benefitting favored special interests.

The initiative would also null state law prohibiting members of the public from recording open legislative sessions and barring the use of recordings of legislative sessions for any “commercial purpose,” including campaign advertising.

Opponents have seized upon this final provision as evidence that the rest of Prop. 54 is unworkable. They contend that it would endanger compromise and quash good legislation by allowing special interest groups to turn the words of state lawmakers against them.

But the idea that Prop. 54 would somehow give unseen “special interests” and lobbyist boogeymen an unfair advantage speaks to the logical frailty of the opposition to Prop. 54. Transparency does not empower special interest lobbies; it cripples them by bringing light to the backrooms of the legislature. Under current law, Californians are none the wiser when lobbyists ram through a bill which no one has read and which no committee has approved. Under Prop. 54, voters will have 72 hours to scrutinize legislative proposals and ensure that their legislators are working for them — not for special interests.

What’s more, lifting restrictions on the use of legislative session recordings will hold elected officials accountable to their words and actions, dealing a heavy blow to the sleazy political gamesmanship which voters abhor. Too many politicians say one thing to their constituents and then do another under the cover of the impenetrable legislative process. Prop. 54 will enable voters to hold their representatives to their promises on the campaign trail by making the hard evidence of legislative wrongdoing available to the public through political advertising.

When we peel away the fear-mongering, the central claim of the initiative’s opponents is that unfettered access to audiovisual recordings of public legislative sessions is against the interests of voters because political advertisements using these recordings would convince Californians to oppose good public policy. But if only 72 hours of advertising can produce enough public outcry to sink a legislative proposal for a state of 40 million people, was the policy really “good” in the first place?

The only politicians who fear being held to their word are the ones who violate it, and only these duplicitous souls will benefit if the California Legislative Transparency Act fails to pass. Voters should put their legislators and the special interests on notice and demand a new era of accountability in the Golden State by voting “Yes” on Prop. 54 at the ballot box this November.

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Matthew Reade is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Restore America Project, a source for thoughtful political analysis and commentary on current events issues. He is also the senior associate editor of the Claremont Independent, a journal of campus news and political thought for the colleges of the Claremont Consortium.

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