Full disclosure is one piece of a hefty package of initiative reforms that Steinberg plans to introduce in the next Legislature. Most of his proposals would need approval from voters.
Steinberg also would:
• Allow the Legislature to place a tax increase on the ballot with a simple majority vote if lawmakers didn't want to hike taxes on their own. Now it requires a two-thirds vote, which Brown failed to attain last year. That forced him to go the initiative route.
"At a minimum, a governor who wins election overwhelmingly should be able to place his version of a tax increase on the ballot with a majority vote of the Legislature," Steinberg says.
Brown wound up spending $8 million in special-interest money to collect signatures for the initiative.
• Bring back the "indirect initiative" that Johnson pioneered but was scuttled in a misguided mid-1960s constitutional revision. Under that system, the Legislature could get a crack at altering an initiative before it went on the ballot. Sponsors could accept or reject the lawmakers' work.
This would insert some representative democracy into the initiative system, Steinberg says. "At least we'd have committee hearings, public testimony and the press watching our moves as opposed to just somebody with a big checkbook drafting an initiative however they choose."
• Allow the Legislature to amend or repeal a statutory initiative after 10 years. About two dozen states permit this. "Needs and priorities change," Steinberg says.
Note to Prop. 13 worshipers: Relax. That property tax limitation is a constitutional amendment and would be protected.
John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at USC, calls California's initiative system "a net plus," because "there are times when elected officials aren't doing what voters want them to, and they ought to."
But he adds: "Any reasonable person is going to be uncomfortable watching the vast amounts of money being spent, the extreme influence of interest groups and the distorted messages."
We're in desperate need of a 21st century Hiram Johnson.