Yes on Prop 15: One Small Step for Democracy

Jesse Unruh and Willie Brown, former Democratic Speakers of the California Assembly

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” the late California Democratic heavyweight Jesse Unruh once said. But even Unruh would be shocked by the time-consuming fundraising, nefarious corporate influence, and obscene personal spending in American politics today — local, state and national. And the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing unlimited corporate spending will only make things worse.

Californians can do something about this on Tuesday, June 8. A victory for Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, will mean that the race for the Golden State’s Secretary of State will be a “clean money election” in 2014 and 2018. A small step, but a necessary one.

California’s Republicans and Independents also have a chance on Tuesday to weigh in on the gubernatorial candidacy of Meg Whitman, a billionaire who describes her own history of voting — not voting on issues, just voting — as “atrocious.” She’s already spent over $71 million dollars of her own money in the primary campaign, and her chief — if not only — selling point is the massive profits raked in by corporations she helped run. Her primary opponent, Republican State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, is a relative piker, having donated a mere $24 million war chest from his personal fortune.

Whitman served on the board of Goldman Sachs until it became a campaign issue — when the public came to understand that company’s role in the U.S. financial meltdown and, more recently, the collapse of the Greek economy. Announcing her candidacy last September she used the word “business” 14 times. Now, perhaps in a nod to the public’s outrage at corporate greed, her ads say California should be run “A bit more like a business.” Or maybe two bits.

The canard that good government is like good business goes hand in hand with the centrality of mega-bucks in campaigns. Running a democracy — a collaborative process in which, by definition, the voice of the people is of paramount importance — couldn’t be more different than operating a business, in which, by definition, one person is in charge and making a profit is what counts.

What has become big business is the perpetual running of campaigns, where candidates — both in and out of office — spend ever-increasing chunks of their time dialing for dollars.

If Prop 15 passes, Secretary of State candidates opting to go the public financing route will receive funds collected from raising annual fees for lobbyists from the risible current rate of $12.50 — less than a hair-dresser’s license — to the still-paltry sum of $350. In other words, no new taxes.

Governor Schwarzenegger, hardly a fuzzy liberal, signed the bill allowing Prop 15 to get on the ballot. And the Democratic Party, along with the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and a host of other newspapers, organizations and opinion-makers throughout the state, favor it.

Polls have shown broad public support for the measure. But a “No on 15″ campaign (by lobbyists, natch) with an array of slimy “Voter Information slate cards” — which look almost exactly like the Democratic Party slate card but urge “No on 15″ — endangers passage.

Jesse Unruh also famously said, “If you can’t take their money and vote against them, you don’t belong in politics.” In other words, most of today’s politicians should be looking for other employment.

States from Maine to Arizona (!) have had great success with clean-money/fair elections in recent years. If Prop 15 fails on Tuesday, we may not get another chance to take even a baby step in the direction of public financing for years to come.

Let’s pass it.

Michael Sigman

Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.

Crossposted from Huffington Post with the author’s permission.


  1. in_awe says

    “Running a democracy — a collaborative process in which, by definition, the voice of the people is of paramount importance — couldn’t be more different than operating a business, in which, by definition, one person is in charge…”

    Uh, where were you when the stimulus bills were being passed over the objections of the nation?

    Where were you when the health care bill was rammed down the throats of the American people who oppose it by a 70:30 margin?

    Where are you when the Obama administration is trying to ram “comprehensive immigration reform” down our throats despite over 70% of the nation demanding an immediate sealing of the border and only then talk about what to do about the 12MM people here illegally since the last, last amnesty program?

    Obama is running with the aid of his minions Reid and Pelosi an authoritarian regime with just the slightest veneer of democracy.

    It is funny how it is only “Big Business” money that corrupts politicians, and never the boatloads of cash funneled to politicians by unions. Why heck, to make their case some pro Prop 15 folks have imaginatively redefined physicians’ associations as being business, when in fact they are medical practitioner unions. The same with other de facto unions.

    According to the American Institute for Economic Research, between 1990 and 2010, unions gave $514MM in campaign contributions with $486MM (95%) going to Democrats. Any chance that those half a billion dollars influenced legislators and other elected officials to vote a certain way that benefited union members disproportionately? Well?

    As to Prop 15 being funded by dues on lobbyists – that is likely to be stricken down by the courts and the law will revert to the incorporated Plan B funding source – tax payers. We should now have to pay to get people elected who screw us? Great idea. “May I have another, sir?”

    • says

      I absolutely agree with you about the unions, which also contribute to the corruption of big money in politics. I’d like to get their money out of politics along with that of corporations.

      I don’t agree that Prop 15 is likely to be struck down, but we’ll see.

      As for President Obama, I think he’s handled some things well and other things poorly. In any case, he’s far less authoritarian than W. I don’t agree that he’s trying to jam comprehensive immigration reform down our throats. If anything, he’s putting it on the back burner because he probably can’t get it passed.

      What do you think should be done with those 12 million people?


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