Political corruption is compromising our political system and undermining
Two-thirds of Californians believe the state is run by a few big interests,
not for the benefit of all the people. Nearly as many believe big-money
contributions harm public policy. As public faith in government dwindles,
citizen participation has plummeted. In June, California experienced the
lowest turnout for a primary election in more than 80 years.
The biggest question is not whether we should embrace political change. It’s
can we, as a democratic society, take the risk and not act.
Signs of the problem are everywhere. As voters stay home, the politicians in
Sacramento have gone wild.
In the final hours of the legislative session, 75 fund-raisers were held
across the street from the Capitol. By early October, more than $400 million
had been spent on the state’s political races leading to what will almost
certainly be the most expensive election in state history.
Political reform is not an abstract idea. The consequences of this binge
spending can be seen every day. Politicians reward their biggest donors with
tax breaks, pork-barrel projects and special-interest legislation.
Politicians are unable or unwilling to solve our state’s biggest problems
for fear of offending their biggest donors or seeing mountains of cash spent
The result is inadequate funding for our schools as money is diverted to
corporate tax loopholes. Or rising chronic asthma rates due to breathing
polluted air as bills to reduce emissions are blocked or vetoed after heavy
opposition by the polluters.
Millions spent to persuade legislators to lift regulation of the cable-TV
market with no protections for consumers that will inexorably lead to higher
cable-TV prices and poorer customer service.
Families hold garage sales to pay exorbitant medical bills as HMOs, drug
companies and other big corporate chains contribute millions to candidates
and initiatives to block efforts to expand coverage.
Proposition 89 will help take the coercive influence of money out in
politics so our Legislature can set policies based on their constituents,
not on their biggest donors. It sets tougher limits, that apply to all
donors, on contributions to candidates, independent-expenditure committees,
and all other committees that campaign for or against candidates.
It offers limited public funds to qualified candidates who want to serve
their constituents free from obligation to private donors. Anyone who breaks
the law could end up removed from office–as occurred in Arizona, one of the
states where this model is already in place and working well–or in jail.
It also begins to stem the arms race in our initiative process by setting a
limit of $10,000 on what corporations can contribute from their treasuries
on ballot-measure campaigns. Contrast this with the more than $117 million
spent by just five corporate on just two ballot measures this year or the
$83 million spent by big drug companies in last year’s special election.
The new rules of Proposition 89 will hardly shut out the voices of these big
interests. Corporations have been living with sterner limits on the federal
level for 100 years and no one thinks they have too little influence in
Even the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed concern, upholding a Michigan law
to ban corporate political contributions due to “the corrosive and
distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accomplished
with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation
to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas.”
Virtually every group that has worked for years to reform the political
system in California are among more than 300 community groups and leaders
who support Proposition 89, including the League of Women Voters, American
Association of Retired Persons, Common Cause, CalPIRG, United Teachers Los
Angeles, the Sierra Club, and many more.
Not surprisingly, those who benefit from their disproportionate influence in
Sacramento are spending millions to defeat this reform. Their arguments can
be boiled down to one fact. They like the present political system because
it works well for them, just not for everyone else.