Less Money, More Women

*How Prop. 89 Could Change the Face of Politics

By Tam Hunt, Opinion

How do we fix our broken political system? Just about everyone agrees that we need to get money out of politics. Fewer would agree with my second suggestion: An equally important fix is to get more women into politics. I have a hunch, however, that at least half of the electorate would agree this is a good idea.

It so happens that California voters will very soon have the chance to decide on a new proposition that would do a lot to promote both of these changes. Proposition 89, the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, is on the ballot for November. If it passes, it could have a tremendously positive effect on how elections are run in our state, and, accordingly, an equally strong effect on how political decisions are made.

Before I describe Prop. 89 in more detail, let me back up and explain why we need less money and more women in politics. We need less money because money is the primary source of corruption in our current system. We’ve seen a slew of corruption cases come down in recent months, the highest-profile case being the ongoing Abramoff scandal, in which Jack Abramoff â€" a well-connected Republican lobbyist â€" pleaded guilty to numerous improper lobbying practices, such as bribing public officials. Thus far, Representative Bob Ney of Ohio has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy stemming from his involvement with Abramoff. Time will tell how many people are implicated in his web.

Another high-profile case involved Randy “Duke†Cunning­ham, a San Diego Republican congressman, who was sentenced to years in jail for taking more than $2 million in bribes while in Congress. “The truth is, I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office,†he told reporters. Yet another case involves William Jefferson, a Democratic congressman from Louisiana, who was accused of accepting bribes for his role in promoting contracts with the Army. Jefferson has not been indicted, but remains under investigation. And these are simply the people who were dumb enough to get caught.

So why more women in politics? First, it makes sense to have better gender representation in politics and there are far fewer women than men in elective office. Second, women are more likely to seek cooperative solutions to sticky problems than are men. At the risk of overgeneral­ization, it is fair to state that women are more inclined to talk about differences and resolve those differences, while men would often rather shoot first and ask questions later. It’s my belief that having more women in politics will be a move toward a more cooperative and compassionate society. This would yield numerous benefits for local politics, but would also lead, at the national level, to a far more humane foreign policy than has been the case throughout much of the last century of American intervention throughout the world.

Prop. 89 is, of course, applicable only to California, but it’s not unreasonable to believe that state public finance systems will eventually filter up to the national level. The proposition would primarily do two things: (1) limit contributions by individuals, corporations, and nonprofits to political candidates and initiative campaigns; (2) provide public financing to candidates who qualify for assistance, financed by a small tax increase on corporations (which brings tax rates back to where they were in 1996 under then governor Pete Wilson).

Currently, California has relatively high campaign contribution limits. Prop. 89 goes a long way toward bringing these limits down, thereby diminishing the influence of money from large donors. And by providing public financing to qualifying candidates, Prop. 89 will open up the political field to many folks who otherwise don’t have the connections or the personality to raise large amounts of campaign cash. This is good because it is foolish to believe that large contributions to candidates don’t confer any obligation on the recipient. While it’s difficult to prove “pay-to-play†allegations, it’s clear that such tactics happen frequently in our current system.

By opening up the political playing field to non-traditional candidates â€" those without ties to large campaign contributors â€" we can expect to elect politicians who actually work for the people and not for their large contributors. Experience in other states has shown that a large portion of clean-money candidates are women. Fully 40 percent of those running as clean-money candidates in Arizona in 2004 were women. And in Maine, clean-money elections have had a similar effect, with about half of the total number of candidates now running as clean-money candidates â€" many of them women.

Vote for Prop. 89 and do your part to get money off â€" and women on â€" the political playing field.

See the article on Santa Barbara Independent website

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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