Money puts democracy in danger in East Valley - and rest of U.S.

By Al Sheahen

WHY is it that voters always vote for the big money and against their own best interests?

Are we just stupid? Don't we care?

In the primary election Tuesday for the 2nd City Council District in the east San Fernando Valley, three candidates had money. Seven did not.

Needless to say, the three money candidates were the top three vote-getters, garnering 75.4 percent of the vote. The top two money-raisers finished first and second, with 62.5 percent of the vote.

The seven other candidates were mainly capable grass-roots activists who refused to kiss up to the developers and special interests for cash.

The two front-runners - Christine Essel and Paul Krekorian - both carpetbaggers who just moved into the district to run for the office, will face each other in a costly runoff Dec. 8. The winner will enjoy an annual salary of $178,789 - paid by taxpayers - and enjoy power over development and land use in much of the Valley.

What is it about us that we refuse to vote for anyone who can't raise big bucks? Should that really be the main qualification for a job that is supposed to serve the people?

Clearly, it is.

The sad truth is that democracy - the idea that informed voters will elect people to represent the interest of the community, not the interests of the wealthy and special interests - is not working.

Is it just that we don't understand the connection between big special-interest money and those flashy mailers we get. I got 13 slick mailers from Essel. Thirteen!

Who paid for those? They didn't just appear in my mailbox by magic. It's private money - from people who expect to be paid off. As Arnold Schwarzenegger aptly put it six years ago when he was running for governor: "Money comes in. Favors go out. The people lose."

And it could get worse. The U.S. Supreme Court just heard arguments that would overturn a 1907 law and make it legal for corporations to contribute money to campaigns. If that happens, we can kiss democracy goodbye.

Is there any solution? Maybe.

For starters, we can wake up and vote yes on the California Fair Elections Act in June 2010. This modest measure creates a pilot project to provide voluntary public financing for candidates running for secretary of state.

"We're going to have to institute public financing of campaigns," President Barack Obama said. "We are tired of how campaigns are bought. And we want to change it."

Public financing is working in Arizona, Maine and Connecticut. Arizonans have seen a new era of bipartisan problem-solving. Less budget money is eaten up repaying political donors. And public financing has opened up politics to more women and minorities.

"We strongly support the California Fair Elections Act," said Janice Hirohama, president of the League of Women Voters of California.

We can give up on democracy, or we can open up the political process and elect those who are the most able, not just the wealthy and the best fundraisers.


See the article on Los Angeles Daily News website



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