Initiative would force California politicians to wear decals of their financial backers

A proposed general election ballot initiative would require state lawmakers to wear their top donors' labels on their clothes in the fashion of NASCAR drivers.
A proposed general election ballot initiative would require state lawmakers to wear their top donors' labels on their clothes in the fashion of NASCAR drivers.
California is Not for Sale

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Imagine a world where state politicians are required to display the logos of their top funders right on their suit jackets in the fashion of NASCAR drivers.

It may sound wild, but the idea is one of about 75 California initiatives that supporters are trying to qualify for the general election ballot this November.

"Part of my mission in life has been to do something about corrupt politics," said San Diego businessman John Cox, the measure's sponsor.

Raised by a single mother, Cox grew up on the south side of Chicago. He's now an attorney and investment advisor, among other ventures.

Cox ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for public offices in Illinois — even tried to run for president — and was a leader in the 2013 effort to recall former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner following allegations against him of sexual harassment. The mayor later resigned.

Cox describes himself as "self-made," and said he’s spending part of his children’s inheritance to try and get the label initiative in front of voters this November. 

In his view, the initiative drive is an effort to tamp down the role that big money plays in politicians' decision-making.

"They either fashion legislation in order to please those funders so they can garner more money or, in a negative fashion, they stay away from reforming systems because it might anger some funder who would run ads against you," he said. 

Cox said he knows his proposal is an absurd idea. Some have pointed out there are constitutional and enforcement issues in requiring lawmakers to wear decals on their clothes.

But Cox aims to ridicule the political system and build support for another initiative idea he’s been working on: it’s a concept called the Neighborhood Legislature, which he said would help battle special interest money by having politicians represent smaller groups of people.

As for the logo initiative, Cox said he’s willing to pump more than a million dollars of his own money into the campaign to get it on the ballot. 

Thad Kousser, University of California, San Diego, political science professor, said that amount of money may be enough to get the measure placed before voters.

"With a million dollars and public fervor, you can get anything on the California ballot," he said.

Kousser said although Cox’s initiative may face legal challenges, he could have success at the ballot box given the anti-establishment temperature of the times.

Frustrated voters like some supporters of Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump may like the label initiative, Kousser said. As for how large of an impact the measure would have, that’s an open question.

Kousser said since the initiative would require politicians to wear their donor logos on the floors of the state Assembly and Senate, it might make less of a splash than supporters might want.

"Nobody watches the California legislature. No one's paying attention to what goes on on the floor," he said. "It would really change what these legislators look like, but perhaps no one in California will be paying enough attention to notice."

Supporters of the ballot measure, officially called California is Not for Sale, have until about the end of April to gather enough signatures to qualify.

Cox said they've collected about 100,000 signatures so far, a little less than a third of what they'll need to qualify the measure.

Seven initiatives have been deemed eligible for the November ballot so far. An additional 10 measures have reached the 25 percent mark for collected signatures and have been certified by the Secretary of State's office. Cox's initiative has not yet hit the 25 percent mark. 

Kousser expects up to 20 initiatives could end up qualifying for the November ballot.