Taking Back Government from Special Interests

By Ned Wigglesworth

Proposition 89, the campaign reform measure on the November ballot, presents voters with a golden opportunity to take back government from the special interests and lobbyists that currently run the show in Sacramento.

When Southern California homeowners sought relief from the insurance nightmares caused by devastating wildfires, the insurance industry used its financial clout in Sacramento to bury the effort.

When Northern California lawmakers recently tried to pass legislation to address the insufficient levee protection, developers killed the bill with the help of a $500,000 campaign contribution to members of the right committee.

Gaming tribes, who would exempt themselves from California's laws, have spent tens of millions of dollars to change those same laws. This year, their campaign contributions paid off with five gaming compact proposals that would have allowed them more slots than the biggest casinos in Las Vegas.

Not even the opposition denies the problem: Campaign money has conquered California government. Cash-rich gaming tribes, a few big labor unions, and big corporate interests such as oil companies, pharmaceutical companies and HMOs spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to elect their favored candidates and push their political agendas, all at the expense of the consumers, small-business owners and middle-class families of California.

In return for their investment, these special interests get tax breaks, sweetheart contracts and favorable legislation worth billions of dollars. Meanwhile, nothing is done to limit skyrocketing health insurance costs, to improve the quality of our schools or to help solve the other issues facing California's working families.

Crafted carefully by some of the foremost Constitution and election law experts in California, Proposition 89 attacks the problem head-on with strict new limits on political contributions to candidates, parties, PACs and so-called independent committees from corporations and unions alike. Lobbyists and groups seeking business with the state would be barred from making contributions.

The measure also offers limited public funds to qualifying candidates (a concept known as “clean moneyâ€) that want to serve their constituents free from obligation to their biggest contributors. And there is tough disclosure and enforcement to make sure all the participants play by the rules.

The result of the measure would be incredibly positive for all but a handful of the biggest political spenders in California. Regular people would have a bigger voice in the decisions and priorities of state government. Candidates would be judged on the strength of their ideas, not the size of their campaign accounts. Elected officials could be held accountable for placing the demands of their wealthy donors over the needs of their constituents. The Legislature, whose normal dysfunctional gridlock is caused in no small part by the conflicting demands of well-financed competing special interests, could legislate.

In short, government in California could actually work again.

The list of Proposition 89 opponents reads like a who's who of special interests in California. Insurance companies, developers, lobbyists and the biggest labor union in the state have ganged up to defeat the measure. They will likely spend millions in their effort to derail reform.

Already, they are ramping up their self-serving propaganda machine, focusing on the financing mechanism for the clean money portion of the initiative (a 0.2 percent tax increase on banks and corporations) or its constitutionality (the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly recommended clean money as a constitutional campaign reform). Unsurprisingly, the alternative they offer to Proposition 89 sounds suspiciously like the status quo. They trumpet disclosure, even though California's current disclosure laws â€" some of the very best in the country â€" have done nothing to check the dominance of special interest money in Sacramento.

The price tag on Proposition 89 â€" $200 million overall, predominantly from the wealthiest corporations in the state â€" is a drop in the bucket compared to what special interests make in tax loopholes, sweetheart contracts and favorable legislation. This is why they are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year in lobbying and other political spending. From the cost-benefit perspective of the average voter, this one's a no-brainer: Bringing an end to the corrupt status quo will save taxpayers money.

In the end, Proposition 89 boils down to this: Should special interests own the Legislature, or should the people of California? If you answer the latter, vote Yes on Proposition 89 in November to take back our government from the special interests and their lobbyists. If your answer is the former, chances are you're part of the problem.

See the article on San Diego Union-Tribune 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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