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Pledging Allegiance to Reforming Our System: Vote Yes on Measure H

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There are enduring American touchstones that took root in our childhood and continue on as we get older and become fathers and mothers and grandparents: taking off our caps during our national anthem, singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch, and placing the right hand over our heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. It might be muscle memory for some but the words often carry a far deeper meaning. I am particularly mindful that we pledge allegiance not just to the flag of our country but also to the "republic for which it stands." Given the corrosive nature of money in politics and how it corrodes our democratic foundation, it is important to limit the flow of the special interest spigot or at least create more opportunities for regular people to compete through public financing. This is why I am supporting Measure H on the March 8th ballot here in Los Angeles. It is a vote for honest government.

Kathay Feng 2

(Photo by Headington Media Group: Common Cause's Kathay Feng speaking at the Huizar Government Reform Forum Series)

Public financing of campaigns does not address the fact that wealthy candidates like Mike Bloomberg, Meg Whitman, Michael Huffington and Al Checchi still have an undue advantage in our electoral process. But as the recent gubernatorial race here in California showed, sometimes the one with less money wins -- especially if they're part of an existing political brand. Actor and pundit Alec Baldwin made the following point in a recent HuffPost piece, "Candidates for public office may not need 'ceilings' imposed on them for campaign spending, but they do need 'floors,' a publicly funded source of money that will insure that qualifying candidates receive enough cash to achieve 'media saturation' in the region in which they are running."

The Citizens United decision has unlocked the floodgates for big corporate and union spending and overturned a century of laws and decades of legal precedent in the process. Billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are the new poster boys of the moneyed special interests. Earlier this year, Common Cause and a number of other progressive organizations protested the Koch brothers during their annual meeting here in California to raise awareness of their political money trail -- from Wisconsin to Nebraska.

The City of Los Angeles faces serious challenges in the short- and mid-term, and soon another mayoral contest to set the direction of the city we love. Simply stated, we need the best ideas and leaders to come forth regardless of wealth and the special interest support that unduly influence our elections. We should make a preemptive strike against -- or at least keep at bay -- the Koch Brothers and their ilk from pushing more money into our elections. Campaign finance laws should be strengthened, not weakened, and supporting Measure H would perform two basic reforms: (1) Lift the cap on public finance trusts to create a more robust public financing system and (2) Ban prospective private companies with pending bids on City contracts from making campaign contributions.

Bidder Ban. The problem with our campaign finance system is that it invites the public to believe that government policies are open to the highest bidder. This widespread perception has a corrosive effect -- especially when coupled with crises like water, budget, etc. The "Bidder Ban" would mean that bidders on large L.A. city contracts would not have to worry about fundraising for elected officials to curry favor but rather the actual merits. Measure H addresses this by banning campaign contributions and fundraising by bidders on contracts worth $100,000 or more and subject to elected official approval. The ban includes contributions by their principals and any $100,000 subcontractors and their principals. The lower bidder is more likely to win if campaign fundraising and contributions are not in the way. This is better for taxpayers as lower bids mean a lower budget.

Strengthening the Campaign Trust Fund. Los Angeles city elections have not skyrocketed as much as other cities because L.A. voters passed a 1990 ballot measure that provides matching funds to qualified candidates who voluntarily agree to spending limits. A majority of the candidates for office have used the systems and thus avoided a costly spending arms race. Unfortunately, the funding provided by the system hasn't kept up with campaign costs. Measure H addresses this problem by allowing the trust fund to grow to keep up with the times. The 1990 voter-approved annual allocation will not change nor will it require an increase in allocation of general fund dollars from the City budget.

Protecting the Budget during Fiscal Emergencies. Measure H allows the City Council to suspend the voter-mandated annual allocation to the Campaign Trust Fund and even borrow from the fund during declared fiscal emergencies when the fund is above $12 million.

Many elected officials, reform advocates, experts and news outlets have endorsed the "Yes on H: H is for Honest Government" campaign, including Council President Eric Garcetti, the William C. Velazquez Institute, the California Clean Money Campaign, Common Cause, the Los Angeles Times, and the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles.

One of our most colorful California Assembly speakers -- referred to as "Big Daddy" -- said that "Money is the mother's milk of politics." With folks like the Koch brothers around, it is probably truer now than when he said it in the 1960s. The question is: is this the best we can do? The current formula that gives many advantages to wealthy candidates and rewards special interests is bad for all of us. Why not pledge allegiance to reforming the system that creates a more inclusive Los Angeles and, by extension, a more democratic republic? Vote Yes on H on March 8th.