Unless one is wearing Brown colored glasses, it is easy to see that California is a mess. We rank second in unemployment and millions of Californians have fled the state since the millennium — most as economic refugees seeking to carve out a better life for themselves where taxes are lower and job opportunities are better.
Most taxpayers see as their biggest obstacle to an improved life those elected officials who work against their interests, while bowing and scraping before those who provide millions of dollars in campaign cash. What it comes down to is that the Sacramento politicians are making war against regular folks, while assisting narrow, well-heeled, special interests to prosper.
What happens when an average Californian travels to Sacramento and requests an office meeting with a state representative? Those few ordinary citizens who attempt this pilgrimage are in for a rude awakening. First, you’re lucky if you get a meeting. If you do, it will most certainly be with a junior staffer just barely old enough to vote. Not so for those lobbyists whose firm or organization contributed thousands of dollars to the politician’s most recent campaign fundraiser. Those who provide campaign cash expect access to “their” lawmaker at a moment’s notice and they demand “correct” votes on the legislation they care about. And no, this is not a partisan issue; representatives from both political parties are more than willing — and some are eager — to take contributions from powerful special interests.
In 2010, corporations, business groups and labor organizations gave $89 million dollars to the Sacramento politicians. Unions weighed in with $25 million in direct contributions, while major corporations ponied up $48 million.
Saying these payouts were made to advance good government would not pass the “laugh” test. Look at these examples. PG&E donated $561,000 playing in 70 percent of state legislative races. BNS Rail infused another $400,000 into 94 percent of legislative races, while AT&T was good for $760,000 to 99 percent of races. These records demonstrate that the goal of these firms is to buy influence with whoever is elected.
For the unions and corporations these expenditures are a great deal, even if for average taxpayers it is not. A few hundred thousand dollars invested in politicians can provide big payouts in return. Of bills passed by the Legislature, 60 percent are written by lobbyists and attorneys for special interests.
This corruption of the legislative process is nothing new, but with our state’s failing economy and high taxes, it can no longer be ignored. This fall, California voters will have the opportunity to strike a major blow against the system of influence peddling that currently dominates Sacramento.
A just-qualified initiative, Stop Special Interest Money Now, will appear on the November ballot. It will accomplish three things that will diminish the control of special interests over elected officials. First, it will prohibit corporations and unions from contributing directly to the campaigns of political candidates. Second, it will bar contributions to officials by those contracting with, or seeking to contract with government — no more “pay to play.” Finally, it will stop labor unions from taking money, to be used for political activity, directly from workers’ paychecks without their explicit permission.
While there may be no foolproof way to totally prevent special interests from trying to manipulate the system for their benefit, the passage of Stop Special Interest Money Now will go a long way toward leveling the playing field so that the concerns of average Californians are given the same consideration as those of big corporations and unions in the deliberations of government.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.