Starved for Democracy? California Says Pay $2K

Governor Brown's signature on legislation increasing the filing fee for citizens who file ballot initiatives from $200 to $2,000 is the modern equivalent of the famous salvo attributed to Marie Antoinette upon hearing of a famine among the French peasants, "Let Them Eat Cake."

If citizens are starved for better democracy, let them pay 2K.

After a year in which FBI corruption scandals removed three state senators from office, and voters came out in smaller numbers than ever before for a California election, what's the response from Sacramento? Make it harder for citizens to use the process of direct democracy. 

As my Capitol Watchdog colleague Carmen Balber wrote, "Even as the Secretary of State and legislative leaders are championing legislation to make it easier for Californians to register and turn out to vote (for them), lawmakers don't seem to want Californians to be able to vote on ideas of their own."  She called AB 1100, signed by the governor yesterday without any comment, "a $2,000 initiative poll tax."

Only four other states, of the 26 with initiatives, require a filing fee at all: Mississippi $500, Alaska $100, Ohio $25, and Washington $5.  Now California's outdone Mississippi in creating barriers for citizens who have initiatives they want voters to take on. 

The cause celeb of AB 1100's backers was an atrocious and unconstitutional ballot initiative that called for killing gays. California's Attorney General obtained a court ruling that she could disregard the filing, but those with their eye on limiting citizen access to decision making had a flag to fly in Sacramento.

Backers of the new ballot initiative fee argue that anyone who can collect 800,000 signatures, which almost always are paid for with at least $1 million, can come up with 2 grand.   Of course everyone in Sacramento got there by being able to raise tens of thousands of dollars, so why not make up the ante for those who want to play in the initiative process?

With digital democracy and social media on the rise, as well as electronic voting and signature gathering on the horizon, its very conceivable that students angry over escalating tuition, or some other penniless disenfranchised dreamers, could collect signatures for a revolutionary idea for virtually nothing.  Now they have a $2,000 ballot entrance fee pay that would almost certainly be a serious hurdle.

Shame on the sanctimonious legislature and Governor for dismissing the dreamers and political outsiders who could teach them a thing or two about democracy if they had a couple of hundred bucks and a great viral idea. 

This arrogance and indifference to public opinion is why we launched Capitol Watchdog recently to pull the curtain back on elitism and cronyism in Sacramento.

Hiram Johnson, the great populist California governor who gave citizens the initiative process to battle the railroad baron's control over Sacramento, would be ashamed at the signing of AB 1100. 

The golden state lost a little of its shine with this signature. California's direct democracy became less direct.