Opponents of Prop 89 and Clean Money Weave a Tangled Web

By Ned Wigglesworth, Policy Advocate

Prop 89, the Fair Elections and Clean Money Act on the California ballot this fall, promises sweeping changes in the way business gets done in Sacramento.

--Corporations, labor unions, gaming tribes, trial lawyers, and rich people alike would all be subject to low limits on contributions to candidates, political parties, PACs, and independent expenditure committees.

--A program of clean money public financing would provide public funds to qualifying candidates who agreed to a spending limit and increased disclosure, freeing those candidates from the grip of private special interests.

--Lobbyists and state contractors would be barred from making political contributions.

In short, the corrupting role of money in California politics would be severely curtailed, freeing California government from the current stranglehold of special interest and lobbyist campaign cash. Candidates would operate on a level playing field in California, turning elections into a competition of ideas instead of money, dramatically improving the accountability of elected officials.

But these provisions and their widespread impact have been largely neglected in the discussion and argument over Prop 89. Prop 89 opponents, a devil’s brood of the biggest political spenders in California fronted by some of California’s highest-paid political consultants, have repeatedly admitted that there is a problem, but have sidestepped the debate over the solution by focusing on one relatively ancillary provision in the measure.

In a moment of high political comedy, the No on 89 campaign has argued that Prop 89’s $10,000 limit on corporate contributions to ballot measures is unfair to corporations because it doesn’t apply to labor unions. At the same time, the No on 89 campaign has argued that Prop 89 is unfair because the $10,000 limit on corporate contributions to ballot measures will apply to labor unions.

Somewhere, Erwin Schrodinger and his cat are enjoying a laugh.

The absurdity of this position makes sense when you look at the opposition, which includes two of the 800 lb. gorillas in the zoo of California politics, the Chamber of Commerce and the California Teachers Association. When the No on 89 campaign speaks to Chamber-friendly audiences, Prop 89 is unfair to corporations. When the No on 89 campaign speaks to labor-friendly audiences, as spokesperson Robin Swanson recently did on KPFA radio, Prop 89 is unfair to labor unions.

So which is it?

The answer, which has been drowned out by a torrent of misinformation, is that Prop 89 is fair to both labor unions and corporations. Just like federal law requirements for contributions to candidates and PACs, Prop 89 allows labor unions and corporations alike to contribute unlimited amounts to ballot measures through PACs.

But more importantly, Prop 89 is fair to the voters of California, who have been so marginalized by big spenders on both sides of the political spectrum that they no longer bother to show up at the polls. If Prop 89 passes, the people of California would have the opportunity to take back control of their government from the special interests and fulfill the promise of representative democracy in this state.

And it is that fact which has Prop 89’s opposition tying themselves in knots.

Ned Wigglesworth, joined Common Cause as a policy advocate earlier this year, after working as a corporate lawyer, bartender and creative writer. From these experiences and his time spent growing up on a sheep farm in Kansas, Ned brings a common-sense populist perspective to the problem of big money in politics.

See the article on California Progress Report website

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