Clean Money Helps Elections

By Trande Phillps, Guest Commentary

FRIENDS AND family alike could not understand why clean money election reform in California was first on my New Year's resolution list this year. But then again they couldn't understand why my nurse colleagues and I spent so much of last year chasing down Arnold Schwarzenegger on his mega fund-raising circuit that resulted in more than $76 million in contributions.

And apparently the governor hasn't learned from his special election debacle.

According to press reports, Schwarzenegger plans to raise $120 million for his re-election campaign, which would shatter records.

So why are nurses, some who even voted for the governor, so angry?

The governor's attempt to eliminate safe RN-to-patient ratios was the first blow. It came after the heavy lobbying from one of his big donors, the California hospital industry.

But the governor just represents the excess of the problem -- "it's the system (stupid)."

Those nurse petitioners you see out in public want to interrupt this money for political favors pipeline, and curtail the lobbying scandals that have been on the front pages every day.

Our clean money and fair elections initiative would provide for public financing for candidates who reject private money and sharply limit contributions to candidates and committees. It also would ban contributions by lobbyists and state contractors and provide extensive public disclosure on campaign financial activity.

To fully appreciate the "nurse connection" to clean money elections it is imperative to understand one's motivation for entering the nursing profession.

When I made the life-altering decision to become a registered nurse, I was bursting at the seams with good intentions, believing I was entering a noble profession, practicing in a "nonpartisan" environment, the hospital, where my patients needs came first. Nursing education reinforces the belief that patient needs are paramount. In fact it is state law that requires RNs to be the patient's advocate.

As direct-care nurses working in today's managed-care hospitals we see the fallout every day from the political influence of HMOs and drug companies meaning more uninsured people showing up in our hospital emergency rooms and more patients unable to pay for prescribed medications.

We cannot take care of our patients in the way they deserve, the way we were taught, the way the law requires until we loosen the grip of big corporate interests.

We are reminded every time we see the unnecessary and costly complications that arise from children with asthma admitted to the hospital because they couldn't afford to refill their inhaler or the diabetic who loses kidney function and must spend the rest of his or her life on dialysis.

Unfortunately, these are the norm. Only a major overhaul of our health care delivery system with a single standard of care and universal access for everyone will put the bedside registered nurse in a position where patient care is optimized not compromised.

But that can't happen until we reform election funding.

And so my nurse colleagues are taking to the streets once again, this time to qualify a clean money initiative for this November's ballot.

We already know it works. Maine, Arizona and Connecticut have created public financing of their elections and voter participation has increased, the winning candidates include more women and minorities, the influence of the lobbyists has waned, and major programs have been adopted, in Maine and Arizona, to make prescription drugs more affordable.

Clean money elections in California is the first step to cleaning up the health and welfare of the residents of this great state.

And that's why the nurses, who see a short step from advocating for our patients at the bedside to promoting the public interest, have stepped up to the plate.

Phillips is a registered nurse who lives and works in Walnut Creek.

See the article on Contra Costa Times 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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