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California Fair Campaign Practices


The California Election Code provides rules for fair campaign practices in that state. They are contained in Division 20, Chapter 5, in Section 20400 through 20444. Section 1 deals with the general intent and Section 20400 states that the legislative purpose of Chapter 5 is to encourage any candidate for office public in that state to subscribe to the Code of Fair Campaign Practices.

It is also the intention of the Legislature that “any candidate for public office in this State who subscribes to the Code of Fair Campaign Practices shall follow the fundamental principles of decency, honesty and fair play so that, after having been vigorously contested, but fairly campaigned, the citizens of this state may exercise their constitutional right to vote, free from dishonest and unethical practices which tend to prevent the full and free expression of the will of the voters .

Further, the purpose of creating the Code of Fair Campaign Practices is to give voters guidelines for determining fair play and to encourage candidates to discuss issues rather than untruths or distortions.

Section 2 provides a definition of the word “code” for Chapter 5. Section 3 contains the “Code of Fair Campaign Practices”. Section 20440 states that at the time a person receives their nomination paper, nomination paper, or other document evidencing their intention to be a candidate for public office, the election official is required to deliver to the person a blank code form and a copy of this chapter.

In addition, the election officer is required to inform each candidate for public office that adherence to the code is voluntary. The text of the code reads as follows:


There are fundamental principles of decency, honesty and fair play which every candidate for public office in the State of California has a moral obligation to observe and uphold so that after vigorously contested campaigns but carried out fairly, our citizens can exercise their constitutional right to free and unfettered choice and the will of the people can be expressed fully and clearly on the issues.


(1) I CONDUCT my campaign openly and publicly, discussing issues as I see them, presenting my record and policies with sincerity and candor, and criticizing without fear or favor the record and policies of my opponents or parties policies that deserve this criticism.

(2) I MAY NOT USE OR PERMIT the use of defamation, whispering campaigns, defamation, slander, or slanderous attacks against any candidate or their personal or family life.

(3) I MAY NOT USE OR PERMIT any appeal to negative prejudice based on race, religious belief, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition , marital status, age, sexual orientation, sex, including gender identity, or any other characteristic set forth in Government Code Section 12940, or association with another person who exhibits any of the actual or perceived characteristics set forth in Section 12940 of the Government Code.

(4) I SHALL NOT USE OR PERMIT any dishonest or unethical practice that tends to corrupt or undermine our American system of free elections, or that hinders or prevents the full and free expression of the voters’ will , including acts intended to hinder or prevent any eligible person from registering to vote, registering to vote or voting.

(5) I CANNOT coerce my employees into obtaining election assistance or campaign contributions for myself or any other candidate.

(6) I WILL IMMEDIATELY AND PUBLICLY REPudiATE any support from any individual or group that uses, on behalf of my candidacy or in opposition to that of my opponent, the methods and tactics that I condemn. I will accept responsibility for taking firm action against any subordinate who violates any provision of this code or the laws governing elections.

(7) I DEFEND AND MAINTAIN the right of every qualified American voter to full and equal participation in the electoral process.

I, the undersigned, a candidate for election to public office in the State of California or treasurer or chair of an independent spending committee, do hereby voluntarily endorse, subscribe and solemnly undertake to conduct my campaign in accordance with the principles and practices.”

Section 20441 requires the Secretary of State to print blank forms of the code. The Secretary of State must provide the forms to election officials in the quantities and at the times requested by election officials.

Section 20442 requires the election official to accept, at any time before the election, all completed forms duly subscribed by a candidate for public office.

Article 20443 provides that each code signed by a candidate for public office is a public document open to public inspection. Section 20444 prohibits a candidate for public office from being required to subscribe to or approve the code.