California attorney general failing to create fair and objective initiative titles and summaries

xavier-becerraThe attorney general of California has the responsibility of preparing the “title and summary” for ballot measures to be submitted to the voters. Pursuant to that authority, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued the title and summary for one of the most anticipated ballot initiatives for the 2018 election. Here is his description: “Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes.”

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Confused? Try this excerpt from the ballot summary: “Eliminates Independent Office of Audits and Investigations, which is responsible for ensuring accountability in the use of revenue for transportation projects.”

If you have no clue that this is actually the initiative to repeal the gas tax you wouldn’t be alone. As drafted, the title and summary make every effort to hide the fact that the measure is targeting one of the most unpopular laws in recent California history. Though the words “gas” and “tax” are not in the ballot title, they do at least appear in the ballot summary. But they are followed by the suggestion that the initiative also acts to eliminate the Independent Office of Audits and Investigations — an office that does not yet exist.

This obvious effort at obfuscation, and ultimately voter confusion, flies in the face of a promise Becerra made during his confirmation hearing. Asked last January what he would do to ensure the objectivity of ballot titles and summaries, which is the constitutional responsibility of the attorney general to produce, Becerra testified that “the words I get to issue on behalf of the people of this state, will be the words that are operative to everyone.”

Becerra’s readiness, just months later, to depart from this approach in order to protect the gas tax — which was championed by his own party — is just the latest example of how attorneys general use their influence over the ballot to manipulate voters and advance the interests of their allies. To put an end to this damaging practice, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3, by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, was introduced earlier this year, a measure that would strip the attorney general of the power to write ballot titles and summaries, and transfer that authority over to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Unlike the attorney general, the Legislative Analyst is not a politician. A trusted source of impartial information since its creation in 1941, the LAO’s primary mission is to provide the state Legislature with reports on fiscal and policy issues. The office is also tasked with preparing the fiscal analysis for ballot initiatives, making it well suited for the responsibility of writing titles and summaries, too.

Since the introduction of ACA3, the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register have all endorsed the measure, arguing that, no matter the party in power, the temptation to manipulate a ballot initiative’s language is too great for an attorney general to resist.

Their concerns are supported by a long history of abuse that stretches back to at least 1966, when Attorney General Tom Lynch, tasked with describing the initiative to create a full-time Legislature, at first misleadingly framed it as a measure to raise legislative salaries. More recently, in 2013, Attorney General Kamala Harris drew criticism for describing public pension reform as the “elimination” of state constitutional protections for pensioners, using language that had been poll-tested by opponents of the initiative. Other examples abound, from both sides of the aisle.

The high stakes of the initiative process make any attempt at reform difficult, particularly when the party controlling the Legislature also holds the Attorney General’s Office. When ACA3 was brought before the Assembly Elections Committee earlier this year, the bill had the support of every major good government group in the state, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of California. The only opposition was a representative from the Attorney General’s Office. Nevertheless, the bill failed 2-4 on a party-line vote, with one Democrat abstaining.

Initiatives are powerful tools of direct democracy, allowing the people of California to take direct control over the state’s political destiny when the Legislature has failed. But this is only possible when voters have an accurate description of what they are voting for. ACA3 would assure just that, and when it returns for consideration next year, we urge legislators on both sides to support this measure to redeem direct democracy in California.

Jon Coupal is the president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Kevin Kiley represents California’s 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties. You can follow both on Twitter @joncoupal and @KevinKileyCA.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register. 


  1. All any democrat knows is lie, decieve, cheat, and steal. They will NEVER win arguements based on ratinoal logic. They are all evil SOBs none have redeeming qualities! WE NEED TAR, FEATHERS, and PITCHFORKS!

  2. This illegal needs a boot out of here –I am sure his degree is fake–baldy brown shoe in

  3. Beyond Disgusted says

    Becerra belongs behind bars for numerous reasons not even limited to this lie and manipulation regarding the illegal gas tax seizure – how about misappropriation of public funds for political purposes such as suing the woman who blew the cover on Planned Parenthood and the U.S. Government over the clear federal right to establish immigration policy (DACA etc.); and his treason by way of defending “sanctuary state” status. How can we get him out of office apart from a federal criminal investigation?

  4. The embed in government because they cannot exist outside in the Capitalist world. They change the rules to perpetuate themselves.

    This is the reason Trump has leaks and subtle changes are made in language to give “outs” to those trying to stop those opposed to their radical ideas.

    What do Democrats not understand about accountability? Oh they understand fully. With accountability Brown would be impeached and they (Democrats would be out on their welfare butts).

  5. The AG’s name gives a hint to his background. He came here on a Bracero visa and overstayed its limit. It’s time to turn him over to ICE and sent him back to where he came from.

  6. Does this surprise anyone that a GARGABE Mexican would frame the worse law enacted and a law that will get the Dems thrown out of office in 2018, as a BUNCH OF GARBAGE..Guess you can take the WETBACK out of mexico but you cant take Mexico out of the wetback..Thjs person is nothing but scum appointed by scum Brown..

  7. Obfuscate and confuse is the democrat credo. Nothing but a bunch of criminals.

  8. This is an ongoing problem that can only be solved by passage of ACA-3.
    But then, that would require the “Ins” in Sacto to want reform, a desire that is sorely lacking in that hive of villainy.

  9. The “initiative process” has to be wrested from political control.

    “Obfuscation”……….I tried to find a stronger, more fitting, expression
    but the closest I could describe would be the transparency within a bucket of mud.

    I’ve, on many occasions, promoted the return to state government rules prior to 1966. This action would greatly reduce the cabal that has created the Sacramento/Los angles swamp.

    This would have the effect of limiting political Over-action and greatly reduced costs.

    As a further positive for the tax payer the ballot initiative process would gain
    in political strength for the citizens of California; However, This can only be achieved by an informed and intelligent voting public.

    This is exactly what Xavier Becerra is trying to prevent; And the reason for his recent action.

  10. The (Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos) was created in 1917; A lot of political happenings occurred in that year, as they have, in the placement, in 2017, of Xavier Becerra as the California attorney general.

    The duties, of the California attorney general, under our State Constitution are as follows:

    • As the state’s chief law officer, ensures that the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced.[1]

    • Heads the Department of Justice, which is responsible for providing state legal services and support for local law enforcement.[2]

    • Acts as the chief counsel in state litigation.

    • Oversees law enforcement agencies, including District Attorneys and Sheriffs.[1]

    As I read this, I fail to see any legislative duties.

    Most people are unaware that The California Constitution is one the longest of it’s kind in the world. Many of it’s attributes came from early Mexican civil law. I have this strange feeling that Xavier Becerra would like to see a much greater amount of attributes from the present Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos.

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