Modernizing the Political Reform Act

A Political Reform Act for the 21st Century

The Political Reform Act is the cornerstone body of law that governs political activity in California: campaign finance, lobbying, and governmental ethics. First adopted by voters in 1974 as Proposition 9, the Act has been amended several times through voter initiative and dozens of times by the Legislature. The result is a body of law that can be hard to understand, overly complex, and inconsistent.

"California needs a simplified and streamlined Political Reform Act to improve democracy and increasing accountability." 

-Jodi Remke, FPPC Chairwoman

California continues to have some of the toughest governmental ethics laws in the country, however the current condition of the Act raises several concerns. When the Commission confronts public officials with allegations of misconduct, they have used the complexity of the Act as a justification for their noncompliance. Additionally, potential candidates in smaller races have been discouraged from running when faced with either navigating the intricate rules alone or hiring a professional treasurer to assist them. This often-repeated narrative may diminish the significance of California’s strong ethical rules.

At the direction of Fair Political Practices Commission Chair Jodi Remke, the Commission has partnered with the University of California Berkeley School of Law, University of California Davis School of Law, and California Forward to conduct a comprehensive review and revision of the Act to ensure decades of amendments are given clarity and continuity. 

This project is essential to ensure California's 41-year political reform laws are modernized for the next generation of political activity and technology. 

CA Fwd's Role

Taking time to bring California's landmark ethics law into the 21st century aligns with CA Fwd's goal to restore public trust in government and to modernize and simplify California’s campaign finance, lobbying and conflict of interest laws to improve compliance and enforcement.

CA Fwd's will assist the project and facilitate review and comments by the public, the regulated community, advocacy groups, the Legislature and local ethics commissions. CA Fwd’s public stewardship strategy is intended to:

  • Build public understanding and support around the importance of California’s campaign finance, lobbying and conflict of interest laws, barriers and issues presented by the current law, and the value to the public of the FPPC’s work to clean up existing law;
  • Attract and encourage participation from academic experts, practitioners, other stakeholder groups, and the interested public to both inform the identification of issues and the development of solutions;
  • Uphold and publicly promote a transparent, inclusive, and efficient process that will build public, stakeholder, and legislative support for the proposed revisions to law that result from this process;
  • Distill and summarize public input, and provide technical assistance in translating that input into revisions to law that will achieve the intended outcomes of clarity, compliance, enforceability, and civic participation.

Read More: CA Fwd partners with watchdog agency to modernize California’s landmark political ethics law

Goals of the Project

The goals of the project require balancing the Commission’s mandate to provide strict enforcement while promoting accessibility to the public and transparency to the political system. There are four key elements that will drive the revision of the Act and provide significant improvements:

  • Redraft the Act with “plain English” using the simplest, most straightforward language to express ideas and minimize legalese. 
  • Incorporate key provisions from regulations into the Act. 
  • Reorganize the Act in order to have all related provisions in the same chapter with self-explanatory titles for each chapter and section. 
  • Repeal or amend current statutes that are inaccurate or inoperative as a result of judicial decisions and other changes in law. 

More Questions? See the project FAQ page. 

The Political Reform Act Revision Project is a partnership between the Fair Political Practices Commission, UC Berkeley School of Law, UC Davis School of Law, and CA Fwd. The Project is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.