Santa Monica Watchdog Group Urges Defeat of Initiative Fee Hike

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Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog urged the California State Assembly Monday to defeat a bill co-sponsored by former Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom that would hike the ballot initiative filing fee from $200 to $2,000.

AB 1100, co-sponsored with Evan Low, D-Campbell, has been approved by the State Senate and is awaiting a vote by state representatives.

The bill, Consumer Watchdog officials said, would make the initiative filing fee four times greater than the next highest state – Mississippi, which has a $500 filing fee. Alaska's fee is $100, Ohio's is $25 and Washington's is $5. Nearly all 50 states have no filing fee.

"With the public's trust in government already low, it's outrageous that the cradle of direct democracy wants to increase the bar allowing citizens to participate in the process,” said Eddie Barrera, an advocate with Consumer Watchdog.

“The Legislature should be encouraging democracy not discouraging it,"  he said.

If the Assembly approves the measure, the Santa Monica-based group is urging Gov. Jerry Brown to veto it,  Barrera said.

The bill, he said, “will create another hurdle for the public to access its last resort when common sense reforms are stymied by special interests' stranglehold in Sacramento."

Consumer Watchdog officials noted that sponsors of serious initiatives often submit multiple versions of a measure before deciding which one has the best chance for success. If the bill passes, an initiative could cost $4,000 or $6,000 in filing fees before making the ballot, group officials said.

In a June 25 letter to the Assembly members, Consumer Watchdog warned that the bill would further the  dominance of a handful of moneyed interests.

“It's outrageous that the state that birthed direct democracy would charge its citizens an initiative fee that's five times greater than the next highest state,” Executive Director Carmen Balber wrote.

On his website, Low said the bill was prompted by a ballot initiative proposed in February by a Huntington Beach lawyer who wants to legalize the execution of homosexual and transgender people “by bullets to the head or any convenient means.”

Bloom’s spokesman Sean MacNeal, has said that the proposed measure “would discourage people from putting ballot initiatives out there just for giggles.”

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