History of the Political Reform Division

In 1893, the California State Legislature enacted a law entitled "Purity of Elections" based on an English statute that had been passed ten years earlier. The California law covered every aspect of election corruption then of concern, including bribery, coercion, fraud, and secret financing of campaigns. Provisions of the Purity of Elections law included requirements that candidates and their committees file with the Secretary of State detailed financial statements disclosing campaign receipts and expenditures.

In 1911, as part of the Progressive reform movement in California, the initiative, referendum, and recall were added to the State Constitution. Consequently, ballot measures began to play an increasing role in the creation of public policy. However, proposition campaigns were not covered by the Purity of Elections law. So, in 1921, legislation was enacted to require financial disclosure by organizations supporting or opposing statewide propositions.

Although the disclosure of campaign finances was required throughout the first half of the 20th Century, there was no corresponding requirement for financial disclosure of lobbying activities - attempts by individuals and organizations to influence the decisions of State Government. Ironically, the lack of interest in disclosing lobbying activities may have been partly due to the success of Progressive reformers. The Progressives accomplished their goal of destroying the political influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad, so there was little apparent reason to regulate lobbying practices because other lobbyists were relatively weak. However, by the 1940's the lobbying vacuum was filled with an imposing figure - Arthur H. Samish, who stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 300 pounds. Cigar-chomping Artie Samish was the most powerful individual lobbyist in the history of California. Governor Earl Warren said about Samish that "On matters that affect his clients, Artie unquestionably has more power than the governor." In the late-1940's, Samish's arrogance lead him to pose in the national "Collier's Magazine" with a Charlie McCarthy-type dummy. Samish said to the dummy, "This is my legislature. How are you Mr. Legislature?" Members of the State Legislature were not amused, and the public was outraged. In 1949, legislation was passed to regulate lobbying practices and require the disclosure of lobbying financial activities.

The provisions of law requiring financial disclosure of campaign and lobbying activities remained in place, with a variety of amendments, until the mid-1970's. In 1974, a coalition of reformers qualified Proposition 9 for the statewide ballot. Entitled "The Political Reform Act," the measure was the most detailed disclosure law in the nation, and it included new requirements for reporting campaign and lobbying activities. One of its major features was a response to ongoing criticism of the earlier lobbying disclosure law that originally required lobbying statements to be filed with the State Legislature. Because most of the information contained in lobbying statements directly related to the legislature itself, reformers argued (and the Political Reform Act mandated) that lobbying statements be filed with the Secretary of State where campaign disclosure statements always had been filed.

The Political Reform Act of 1974 was written before the Watergate revelations. However, by the time Proposition 9 appeared on the ballot, the ramifications of Watergate were in full force, and reform proposals were sweeping the country. The Political Reform Act passed with an overwhelming majority of the vote. As a consequence, the Political Reform Division was created within the Office of the Secretary of State in order to administer key provisions of the new law. The Act also created a new independent state agency - the Fair Political Practices Commission. The Commission is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Act.

Subsequent to the Act going into effect in 1975, it has undergone amendments and revisions every year. Consequently, the responsibilities of the Secretary of State's Political Reform Division also have been revised over time in order to keep pace with changes in the law. For a description of our current activities, go to the Responsibilities of the Political Reform Division page.

Political Reform

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