Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Match Political Donations With University Gifts

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Imagine if the University of California and the California State University systems could raise an additional $400 million every two years.

It would be enough to blunt much, maybe most, of the cuts in state support that the university systems seem to be suffering each budget cycle.

That's also the amount, roughly $400 million, that appears to have been spent in this year's California elections.

That money is largely wasted. California legislators have limited powers because of the broken governing system and various limits in the state constitution. And ballot initiatives can do little to change the game.

All these factors make California the perfect place for a match program. Specifically, a political match program.

The concept is simple: ask political donors to match every dollar they give to California politics with a dollar in gifts to the university systems. If Molly Munger wants to waste $40 million-plus on a failed ballot initiative, fine. But she'll have to put up $40 million as well.

This couldn't be coerced, but it could be incentivized. Donors who match might be given relief and greater flexibility in complying with filing, regulatory and disclosure standards. Also, there would be social and political pressure to give -- particularly if a measure's opponents were giving a matching amount.

This is less crazy than it sounds. It would create healthy incentives. It might limit spending on campaigns, since donors would have to give equal amounts to the universities. And it would serve as a public reminder of how the university systems are unprotected from cuts by the current state budget system.

It might well bring in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars into higher education. California universities are a far better long-term investment than initiative campaigns. The universities have lasted for decades and students can't lose their education once they have it; most initiatives lose and are never heard from again.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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