Derek Cressman

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Derek Cressman
Born1967 (age 51–52)
OccupationAuthor, Political activist
Alma materWilliams College

Derek Cressman (born December 12, 1967) is a California-based political reform advocate, author and former California Secretary of State candidate. His political ideals focus on removing big money from politics, improving campaign finance transparency and modernizing the California voter registration system.[1] He began his work on these issues in 1995 as the Democracy Program Director for U.S. PIRG and worked in many positions, including Vice President for States, at Common Cause from 2006-2013.[2][3]

Advocacy work[edit]

As founder and director of, Derek Cressman sued Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 for violating California campaign finance laws. Schwarzenegger's attorneys conceded the violations, but successfully argued to have the regulations struck down by California courts.[4]

In 2012, Cressman led efforts resulting in the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) penalizing two Arizona-based nonprofits, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights. The nonprofits donated $11 million to oppose the California governor Jerry Brown's tax hike, Proposition 30, and they proposed a labor organizing reform, Proposition 32.[5] Cressman filed the complaint with the FPPC to reveal the names of the donors who had contributed the money to the nonprofits and proposed to defeat Brown's proposals. After an investigation by the FPPC, one of the nonprofits involved was linked to Republican billionaire donors, David Koch and Charles Koch. A year later in 2013, two campaign committees were fined $15 million to the state, equaling the amount of money illegally donated to the Arizona nonprofits. Furthermore, donors affiliated with the Koch brothers network paid $1 million to the state of California due to their illegal campaign financing exposed by Cressman's FPPC complaint.[6]

2014 California Secretary of State Election[edit]

In 2014, as a longtime activist but political newcomer, Derek Cressman ran for California Secretary of State.[7] His platform included the overhaul of corporate money removal from the political system, make campaign finance more transparent, and modernize the voter registration system. Cressman also sought to get a proposal on the statewide California ballots to vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United v. FEC (2010) Supreme Court decision. Ultimately, Cressman earned 7.6% of the vote, losing to former Democratic state senator and current California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.[8]

California Proposition 49[edit]

Cressman helped direct efforts to pass the Overturn Citizens United ballot measure in California (formerly numbered Proposition 49), which is a voter instruction proposition written by Senator Ted Lieu, advocating that our elected officials take action to get big money out of politics, including support for a constitutional amendment.[9]

The California instruction reads:

Shall the Congress of the United States propose, and the California legislature ratify an amendment or amendments to the United States Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ... to allow the full regulation or limitation of campaign contributions and spending, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of wealth, may express their views to one another, and to make clear that the rights protected by the United States Constitution are the rights of natural persons only?

The question was removed by the California Supreme Court in 2014 to review the constitutionality of voter instruction measures.[10]

On January 4, 2016, a 6–1 decision by the California Supreme Court ruled that "Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process."[11]

Book work[edit]

In 2016, Cressman released When Money Talks: The High Price of "Free" Speech and the Selling of Democracy, a book discussing the movement. The book argues that the United States democracy has transformed into an oligarchic model that allots a small group of wealthy individuals the power to politically control the majority.[12]

The book also presents solutions for citizens to rectify American democracy. In an interview with Salon, Cressman described the challenges that our democracy faces with big money in politics and specifically, "how the courts have exacerbated those problems for about 20 years." He addresses and argues against the opposition's position that conflates "free speech and the free press with paid speech and advertising."[13]

Cressman argues that "if money is equivalent to political speech, then that speech is not free." Cressman promotes limits to paid speech, just as communities limit the amount of time any citizen can speak at a town hall meeting, in order to prevent one voice from dominate political discussions and prevent other viewpoints from reaching the public's attention.

Cressman describes the purpose of limits on freedom of speech "to ensure that there is a robust and balanced debate where we get to hear from all sides of an issue."[14]


  1. ^ Vote Smart Retrieved 2016-02-26. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Light, John (January 12, 2016). "Why Victory in the Fight Against Big Money Is Closer Than You Think". Moyers & Company. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  3. ^ "Derek Cressman Crusades Against the Koch Brothers in California". The Progressive. May 25, 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  4. ^ Berthelsen, Christian (24 March 2005). "SACRAMENTO / Judge hands governor donations victory / Ruling frees up ballot measure committee to raise unlimited funds". SF Gate. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  5. ^ Harmon, Steven (25 October 2012). "California's campaign finance watchdog agency demands names of donors to shadowy Arizona group". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  6. ^ Rosenfeld, Steven (25 October 2013). "How One Guy Stood Up to the Koch Brothers and Won!". AlterNet. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Secretary of State candidates make their case in early L.A. forum". LA Times. 3 March 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Derek Cressman". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  9. ^ Nichols, John (5 January 2016). "California Could Sound the Loudest Call Yet for Overturning 'Citizens United'". The Nation. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  10. ^ Mintz, Howard (4 January 2016). "California Supreme Court backs advisory ballot measures". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  11. ^ Cressman, Derek. "Reviving voter instructions to restore representative democracy". The Hill. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  12. ^ Light, John (12 January 2016). "Why Victory in the Fight Against Big Money Is Closer Than You Think". Moyers & Company. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  13. ^ Isquith, Elias (12 January 2016). "Koch brothers and other oligarchs beware: Campaign finance reformer says your days are numbered". Salon. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  14. ^ Light, John (12 January 2016). "Why Victory in the Fight Against Big Money Is Closer Than You Think". Moyers & Company. Retrieved 26 February 2016.

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