On To The Next Election…

While the final votes have just been tabulated, political consultants are looking ahead to local and statewide races in 2012. The 2011 elections will be remembered for the complexity, oddity, incomprehensible (choose your adjective) ranked choice voting for the Mayor, District Attorney and Sherriff’s City and County of San Francisco races and the widespread use of campaign contributions to independent expenditure committees.

Independent expenditure committees

After the United States Supreme Court in 2010 ruled in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission that corporations, labor unions and individuals had in essence a First Amendment right to spend without restrictions in support of or to oppose candidates outside of campaign law restrictions, independent expenditure committees have been key contributors to federal, state and local races. The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that the First Amendment prohibits government from censoring political broadcasts in candidate elections when those broadcasts are funded by unions or corporations. The decision struck down certain provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act that prohibited corporations and unions from broadcasting election communications. Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority: “If the First Amendment has any force it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech”. The State of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission has acknowledged the increasing role of these committees and an effort is underway to make these committees accountable and require greater disclosure. Independent expenditure committees in the San Francisco’s mayoral race funded widely distributed paperback books and an MTV worthy music video, that has received more than 385,000 youtube hits. While President Obama was opposed to independent expenditure committees in his 2008 race, it is unclear what 2012 holds. It is estimated that independent expenditure committees are prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2012 congressional and presidential elections. California State Representative Bob Wieckowski will be introducing a resolution in the Assembly requesting that Congress draft a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. He is joined by other state legislatures and local governments that are introducing similar resolutions.

State ballot propositions

As of today’s date, there are 26 state initiatives circulating for signature and another 22 pending with the State of California Attorney General’s office for 2012 according to the Secretary of State. It is not expected that all of the pending and circulating propositions will qualify for the ballot on November 6, 2012. The proposals focus on: public employees’ ability to bargain collectively and limitations and reductions in retirement benefits; taxes on oil and gas extractions and dedicating that revenue toward education; restrictions on obtaining concealed weapon permits; “Amazon” sales tax; regulation of marijuana; ending the death penalty; foreclosure modifications and term limits. Requiring parental consent for teenage girls under 18 prior to receiving an abortion may also find its way onto the ballot. Governor Brown may introduce budget and tax related initiatives as well.. Three initiatives are already set for the November 6, 2012 election, including a tax on cigarettes to fund cancer research and an 11.1 billion dollar bond measure to upgrade California’s water supply. We will also have a chance to vote on an amendment to term limits-currently State senators are limited to 8 years in office and State assembly members are limited to 6 years, for a total of 14 years. The proposition will limit an office holder in the Assembly or Senate to a combined total of 12 years in either chamber.

Ranked Choice Voting

On Election Day, Supervisors Mark Farrell and Sean Elsbernd called for repealing ranked choice voting, and they hope to place a charter amendment on the ballot in June.  Farrell and Elsbernd will need the support of six members of the Board of Supervisors or sufficient signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot. Supervisor and mayoral candidate John Avalos has promised to oppose the initiative and has requested that the City Attorney’s Office draft legislation to compete with Farrell and Elsbernd’s proposal. After redistributing second and third choice votes in eleven rounds of voting for the next Mayor of San Francisco, battle lines are quickly being drawn for 2012.


The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben & Junius, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

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