Bad Language

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Susan Lerner of the California Clean Money Campaign rightly criticizes the biased ballot language that Sunnyvale, CA city councilors have used to frame the issue of bringing full public financing of elections to the city, in this article by Julie Patel at the San Jose Mercury News.

Here's how it reads: "Should the city of Sunnyvale institute public financing of Sunnyvale city elections to be funded by either new taxes or a reduction in public services, at an approximate cost of $100,000 per contested council seat?" It puts all the emphasis on the funding mechanism and none on, you know, the rationale behind or benefits from the system --or the process by which public funding is awarded. It's not like the mayor's going to be out in front of city hall with a checkbook signing multi-zeroed checks to anyone who stops by.


But then, when several of the people tagged to create the ballot language are opposed to the proposal you aren't likely to get a neutral summary of the issue in question:

"What the ethics committee proposed is a scare referendum," said Susan Lerner, executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign, which advocates for public financing and plans to have representatives at the Sunnyvale meeting. "We're hopeful that the council will go back to the drawing board and come up with impartial and fair language."

Sunnyvale voters should get a fair picture of why full public financing has been proposed, and why seven states and two cities (Patel omits New Jersey's pilot project in her list of states with similar programs) have adopted it and this ballot language as it stands doesn't do that.