There's a renewed hue and cry right now about members of Congress being beholden to their largest campaign supporters -- Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Labor, Big Buns, Big Ag -- and it's only going to get bigger now that the Supreme Court has essentially relocated democracy to Vegas, where the sky's the limit, baby.
I thought it was time to revisit a Los Angeles Times column I wrote nearly five years ago, back when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was getting hammered over his $8-million deal with a muscle magazine publisher.
Publish and be damned, was pretty much my take then -- but in exchange, the governor would have to agree to wear his affiliation right upfront, maybe on one of those sashes like those that Miss America contestants wear.
In fact, I wrote, our politicians should have to wear identifying marks to show just what they're a wholly owned -- or even partly owned -- subsidiary of. Maybe we should even re-draw Congressional districts to reflect these allegiances: the Honorable Gentleman from Coal Country ... the Honorable Gentlelady from Cheese and Premium Ice Creams.
Here's a good chunk of what I said then, and I still think it's a fine idea.
Arnold, keep the $8 million, with my blessing.
When it was revealed that the governor would make millions lending his substantial name to health and bodybuilding magazines, the bluenoses wailed so long and so loudly that Schwarzenegger canceled the deal.
Had any voter from Calexico to Happy Camp seriously expected the Austrian Oak to give up his movie-star, muscle-promoting day job -- and the millions to be made by Arnold Inc. -- just to be governor? Oh pshaw, to quote my savvy granny.
If he's going to moonlight on "we the people," fine, but on this condition: Come clean. He can trot out excuses: It's no big deal; Maria made him do it; it doesn't take up a lot of time (so that's a million a year, divided by, what, 10 hours a month?). But give us the facts and figures. He reports; we'll decide.
The point is, if politicians have a price, let's put the tags around their necks where we can see them. On TV and in print, there's usually a descriptor line alongside a politician's name or face -- "(R-Calif.)" or "(D-Wyo.)." (I made that one up. There are no Democrats representing Wyoming.)
Why waste airtime and ink on mere geography? Get to the facts that matter. After Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to smack down supplement use by high school athletes, the descriptor should have read, "Schwarzenegger (R-gets a minimum million a year for flogging nutritional supplements)."
When he announced he'd roll back the state's environmental protection law, the line should have been: "Gov. Schwarzenegger (R-just collected $225,000 for his political causes from business groups that hate this law)."
And when Schwarzenegger's pal, Orrin Hatch, the Utah senator, talked up a constitutional amendment that would let non-natives run for president, we should have seen: "Hatch (R-son lobbies for nutritional supplements and his state is 'the Silicon Valley of the supplements industry')."
We in the news biz like to out the hallelujah hypocrites who get caught with their pants down. But we should also do it routinely, succinctly, for all of our elected promise-keepers.
Take Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig, whose just-passed bill protects gun makers and gun dealers from civil liability lawsuits. What does "(R-Idaho)" tell you? Not nearly as much as "(R-NRA board member)."
It might make some of them look good: When North Carolina's Rep. Howard Coble defied the White House to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, we should have read under his face "(R-couldn't turn his back on textile workers like his mama, who sewed pockets on overalls the livelong day.)"
In Sacramento, we have Assemblyman Ron Calderon, whose key vote killed a consumer financial privacy bill, "(D-beneficiary of insurance contributions, including $922 that insurance companies paid to fly his wife to a Pebble Beach insurance conference, feed her and treat her to 'spa activities')." State Sen. Jim Battin endlessly champions Indian gaming, "(R-got $1.3 million from tribes over half a dozen years)." Fabian Nunez, Assembly speaker, is a major FOL -- friend of labor, "(D-used to get a $35,000 annual fee from a labor group's nonprofit arm)."
And you at home can play right along. If it's federal officials you want, go to www.opensecrets.org. For California, find the drips from the money tap here.
Put in a name and see what comes up. It's almost as exciting as a slot machine. You won't get any money, but I guarantee you somebody already has.
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