Clean Money

CLEAN MONEY….One of the measures on the California ballot this November is Proposition 89, the Clean Money initiative. In a nutshell, it provides 100% public financing for state campaigns; provides matching funds if you run against a rich opponent who declines public funds; and places strict limits on the amount of money that corporations, unions, and other interest groups can donate directly to initiative campaigns. You can read the details here.

It deserves passage, but its prospects are probably dim, judging by the number of people who say they support its goals but then go out of their way to find reasons to oppose it. David Sirota draws my attention today to one such person today, longtime LA Times columnist George Skelton. In Thursday’s column he does a pretty good job of outlining the revolting state of modern special-interest campaign financing, but then shies away from reform for reasons that are hard to fathom. First there’s this:

California’s system would cost an estimated $200 million a year and be financed by a bump in the tax rates for banks and corporations. And that’s where Prop. 89 starts to raise my eyebrows.

Here’s the skinny: Prop 89 is financed by raising the California corporate income tax by 0.2 percentage points. That’s an eyebrow raiser? Next up is this:

There’s an agenda here that overreaches beyond public financing: It’s to greatly reduce corporate influence in California politics. And while that might be fine, corporations shouldn’t be whacked any more than labor unions in an initiative that’s principal purpose is to drain special interest money from politics.

….Such a policy would unfairly inhibit a corporation from defending itself against some rich guy with no spending limit. A corporation could get around the limit by soliciting money from executives and shareholders and funneling it through a “political action committee.” But that’s cumbersome. Unions that are incorporated also would be limited, but they already operate PACs.

This is crazy. Candidates for statewide office who accept public funding aren’t allowed to take any additional money from anyone. Not corporations, not unions, not their friends and neighbors. It puts a complete stop to the relentless fundraising that dominates the lives and votes of state officials today.

Likewise, initiative campaigns are restricted in the amount they can accept from both corporations and unions. The limit is $10,000. Both corporations and unions can raise additional money via PACs if they want, and the idea that the business community is unfairly disadvantaged by this is so peculiar I don’t know what to make of it. Is Skelton suggesting that industry groups are a bunch of rubes who don’t know how to set up and fund PACs? That’s nuts. Industry groups raise hundreds of millions of dollars via PACs and know all too well how to set them up and milk them for all they’re worth.

But the contribution limits would make life harder for everyone involved ? which is why plenty of public employee unions are opposed to Prop 89 too. It would still be possible for them to raise large sums of money, but probably not the astronomical sums that are raised now.

Which sounds fine to me. Frankly, Prop 89 probably doesn’t go far enough to get special interest groups out of the initiative business. Opposing it because it’s too effective makes no sense at all.