SOMETHING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO BUYING CALIFORNIA’S ELECTIONSBy Adreana Langston
When George Soros wrote that million-dollar check for the Yes on Proposition 19 campaign, I got out my bong and began polishing it. By that time, the Yes on Proposition 19 campaign had already outspent the No on Proposition 19 campaign with money from a corporate interest in Oakland interested in running an
industrial marijuana conglomerate. Proposition 19 was polling at 52 percent approval in September of 2010 and I was sure Soros’ contribution would put the proposition over the top. After all, the cause or candidate with the biggest campaign coffers wins, right?
That was the fear in January 2010 when the Supreme Court rendered its decision in the Citizens United vs. FEC case. No less than President Obama, himself, spoke with doom and gloom about the fate of American Democracy in the wake of the decision.
January 2010 State Of The Union speech.
I was right there with him in my negative gut reaction to the decision. I believed the truism that unlimited spending by corporations and the uber-wealthy would have a corrupting influence on the political process and, as David Corn suggested in Mother Jones, would hurt progressive
politics the most.
But a funny thing happened—in California, anyway. Big Money lost, again and again. Even, to my dismay, in
the case of my pet Proposition 19.
Right here in Long Beach, I never received one mailer giving me reasons why I should vote yes on Measure D, the measure that would change the algorithm by which the transfer of money from the Port of Long Beach
coffers to the City of Long Beach-controlled Tidelands Fund is calculated.
But I did receive the $11,390.00 mailer sent out by the Partnership For California Trade, a group made up of shipping corporations, telling me that Measure D would cost Long Beach jobs. Measure D passed even though it’s biggest endorsers, the Long Beach City Council (not the most-popular endorsers a measure could have in this city), did not spend money promoting the measure.
Big oil interest in Texas spent large amounts of money trying to convince California voters to put off instituting clean air reforms by voting yes for Proposition 23. They outspent the No on Proposition 23 campaign by 36 percent. Preposition 23 lost, anyway.
I’ve written previously about how I thought Star Parker’s platform was not in agreement with the interest of the majority of the voters in the 37th Congressional District. I never thought she would win.
But I didn’t think she would get trounced, considering her supporters outdonated the supporters of Laura Richardson, 2-1. Richardson won with 69 percent of the vote.
In running for California Governor, Meg Whitman poured bucketfulls of her own cash into her campaign (a
strategy that historically has not worked). Whitman outspent Jerry
Brown by 60 percent, then lost badly while receiving only 42 percent of the
vote. With anti-incumbent sentiment high and the California unemployment
rate hovering at 12 percent, this rich female could not even buy a tight race
with $142 million of her own cash.
The tight races have a story to tell, as well. In competition for Attorney
General, Republican Steve Cooley raised $4.5 million to Democrat
Kamala Harris’ $4 million and the race is still too close to call. But what
is even more interesting is that Ms. Harris was wildly outspent by her rich
Democratic primary rival, Chris Kelly (the former Facebook executive), who
pumped $10 million dollars of his own fortune into the
Democratic primary campaign. Did you read that? Kelly spent more money
attempting to beat Harris in the primary than Harris and Cooley have spent, combined,
trying to beat one another. And before reading this article you’d
nearly forgotten who Chris Kelly was. Admit it.
Stephen Dubner, the author of Freakonomics, argues that the data
simply does not support the popular fear that outspending your rival in
a campaign leads to your side getting a significantly larger number of
votes. Dubner’s view is not in the majority, mind you. But one
study drawing different conclusions only went so far as to claim that
campaign ads increase voter turn out fewer than 10 percentage points
(without concluding that those turned out voters voted the way the ads
suggested). Ted Olson, the lawyer who argued for Citizens United in front
of the Supreme Court, is quick to point out that twenty two states already
had unlimited corporate campaign spending before the Citizens United case
Yes, nationwide there were crazy amounts of campaign spending by outside groups. But analysis suggests that the money did not benefit
Republican candidates that much more than it benefited Democratic
candidates. The thing to remember is that the wave of Democratic losses was
a blue wave, made up of legislators who were on the cusp of being too conservative to call themselves
Democrats in the first place. In the end it might not have been money that
decided their losses but their inability to out-right the Right.
After gaining a little perspective I am no longer as freaked out about
the Citizens United ruling as I first was. That does not mean I do not
think there is reason for concern. I don’t necessarily correlate big
campaign spending with winning elections. But the secrecy
of big campaign spending does still worry me. Especially since I don’t
have the resources to personally hunt
down the origins of all the campaign cash supporting measures on which
I’m being asked to vote. Knowing who is endorsing a measure or candidate is
part of my rubric when deciding how to vote. That is why I am asking my
congressional representatives to vote for The Disclose Act. I
consider it to be the first step in beating back the predictions of doom and
gloom for American Democracy.