06/07/2010 12:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rattling a Fair Elections Foe

Thanks to my work last year on the Huffington Post's Eyes and Ears (E&E) citizen journalism unit, I stumped an opponent of Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act (CFEA).

If passed next Tuesday, June 8, Prop 15 will launch a pilot project to give candidates the option to use or reject public money -- to be raised by upping yearly state registration fees for lobbyists from a paltry $12.50 per year to a more realistic $350 -- to run for Secretary of State.

Californians can make this happen by voting for Prop 15 on the ballot. You know, that sample ballot you got in the mail.

Punching through radio stations recently, I stopped when I recognized the voice of Prop 15's chair debating someone from the other side. This was a tough one; both debaters knew what they were talking about.

After a while, listeners were invited to call in. Most, but not all of the callers favored Prop 15, and had persuasive things to say. But Yes on 15 needed more.

Having worked on this proposition for a year plus, I'm pretty familiar with it. So -- not knowing exactly where I was headed -- I dialed in and waited, trying to focus on the debate and stay in my body so whatever I'd say would be new and fit into the conversation.

Then I remembered a fundamental lesson from my E&E training: focus on who opposes 15 and what their motivation is. Now the old adrenaline was rushing. I Googled the opponents' website and immediately spotted a false claim which pissed me off, and -- forcing myself to pay attention to the debate, too -- glanced at the radio website's summary of the opposition's key players.

I wished I'd already organized my E&E list of online research resources. But I hadn't. So I scrambled around till I stumbled on the brilliant SourceWatch, which presented the tastiest info this side of bittersweet chocolate chips.

I heard my cue, my name on the air. I don't remember exactly what I and the other people said and I'm not ready to find out, but I know I talked about Prop 15 being the least we can do. Then I said that I like to study the people behind propositions.

I raised the name of Frank Schubert, whose firm is running the anti-Prop 15 campaign. "Didn't he manage Prop 8 (the infamous gay marriage ban Californians passed in November, 2008)?" I asked. "And didn't he work with the tobacco industry (trying to thwart victims' lawsuits)?"

When Sarah Palin was chosen GOP Vice Presidential candidate, Schubert blogged, "Kudos to Senator McCain for a truly brilliant, race-changing pick," but I didn't mention that gem. More delicious morsels await...

The host asked, "Aren't you accusing him of guilt by association?" "No," I said, "these are the facts."

The anti-Prop 15 rep first harrumphed "Well. That was in the past. What we're discussing now is something else." "But did your firm run Prop 8?" asked the host. Pause..."Yes," admitted the rep.

Oh yeah!!!

Here's why I support Fair Elections/Prop 15 (also called Clean Money Elections elsewhere). If we want our representatives to work for us, they need to spend time learning what's important to us, rather than having to beg big money donors to pay for their campaigns -- corporations for instance -- which then essentially own the winners.

For 10 years I've worked to make election contests inhospitable to rich special interests.
Public funding already works in a number of states and cities. Once candidates get several thousand people to donate $5 or so and sign petitions supporting them, they agree to use only public funds for the rest of the campaign. They're considered "clean" candidates. They receive money that matches privately-funded opponents -- to fight attack ads and whatever else their opponents throw at them.

When you're ready to face down the special interests, here are a few excellent online research resources recommended by Eyes and Ears.

Maplight illuminates the connection between money and politics.
Open Secrets is a nonpartisan guide to money's influence on U.S. elections and public policy.
Little Sis is a free database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations.
Pro Publica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) publishes SourceWatch,
a collaborative, specialized encyclopedia of the people, organizations, and issues shaping the public agenda.
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