"Money is the mother's milk of politics," the late California Democratic heavyweight Jesse Unruh once said. But even Unruh would be shocked by the time-consuming fundraising, nefarious corporate influence and obscene personal spending in American politics today -- local, state and national. And the Supreme Court's recent decision allowing unlimited corporate spending will only make things worse.
Californians can do something about this on Tuesday, June 8. A victory for Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, will mean that the race for the Golden State's Secretary of State will be a "clean money election" in 2014 and 2018. A small step, but a necessary one.
California's Republicans and Independents also have a chance on Tuesday to weigh in on the gubernatorial candidacy of Meg Whitman, a billionaire who describes her own history of voting -- not voting on issues, just voting -- as "atrocious." She's already spent over $71 million dollars of her own money in the primary campaign, and her chief -- if not only -- selling point is the massive profits raked in by corporations she helped run. Her primary opponent, Republican State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, is a relative piker, having donated a mere $24 million war chest from his personal fortune.
Whitman served on the board of Goldman Sachs until it became a campaign issue -- when the public came to understand that company's role in the U.S. financial meltdown and, more recently, the collapse of the Greek economy. Announcing her candidacy last September she used the word "business" 14 times. Now, perhaps in a nod to the public's outrage at corporate greed, her ads say California should be run "A bit more like a business." Or maybe two bits.
The canard that good government is like good business goes hand in hand with the centrality of mega-bucks in campaigns. Running a democracy -- a collaborative process in which, by definition, the voice of the people is of paramount importance -- couldn't be more different than operating a business, in which, by definition, one person is in charge and making a profit is what counts.
What has become big business is the perpetual running of campaigns, where candidates -- both in and out of office -- spend ever-increasing chunks of their time dialing for dollars.
If Prop 15 passes, Secretary of State candidates opting to go the public financing route will receive funds collected from raising annual fees for lobbyists from the risible current rate of $12.50 -- less than a hair-dresser's license -- to the still-paltry sum of $350. In other words, no new taxes.
Governor Schwarzenegger, hardly a fuzzy liberal, signed the bill allowing Prop 15 to get on the ballot. And the Democratic Party, along with the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and a host of other newspapers, organizations and opinion-makers throughout the state, favor it.
Polls have shown broad public support for the measure. But a "No on 15" campaign (by lobbyists, natch) with an array of slimy "Voter Information slate cards" -- which look almost exactly like the Democratic Party slate card but urge "No on 15" -- endangers passage.
Jesse Unruh also famously said, "If you can't take their money and vote against them, you don't belong in politics." In other words, most of today's politicians should be looking for other employment.
States from Maine to Arizona (!) have had great success with clean-money/fair elections in recent years. If Prop 15 fails on Tuesday, we may not get another chance to take even a baby step in the direction of public financing for years to come.
Let's pass it.