Proposition 198, an initiative which state voters just approved, will allow crossover voting in all future primary elections. That not only means Democrats can vote for Republican candidates and vice versa, it also means there soon will be even more money involved in politics. As the pool of voters is enlarged, so is the amount of money needed to influence them.
In balanced districts, all candidates will be forced to seek the support of the other party's voters. In districts dominated by a single party, big moneyed political machines will be forced to raise and spend even more money to elect their candidates, for fear the other party's voters will cross over and elect a candidate not committed to them.
In California, in just the past few years, we have witnessed lobbyists, state senators, members of the Assembly and their staff members investigated, indicted and convicted for serious felonies involved in raising campaign money or influencing votes on legislation.
None of the campaign finance reform laws previously passed have curbed the obscene amount of money spent to elect and influence politicians, nor have they informed voters effectively of the source of that money. Of even greater importance, they have not stopped the ability of political machines and big special interests to amass huge sums of money and gain political dominance.
Their growing impact on elections and legislation will come head to head with a new reform initiative being proposed by Common Cause. It will be on the upcoming November ballot, and is designed to stop the perversion of the political process by powerful political machines by prohibiting the transfer of funds and pooling. It will also set limits on the size of individual contributions.
The goals of political reformers are clear. They want voters to know exactly who is contributing to the candidates and how much. That's what the submission of campaign finance reports to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) was supposed to accomplish. However, what voter would go to Sacramento or the county registrar of voters to inspect the records? And even if all the voters knew that a candidate's money came from the worst possible source, recent successful elections by candidates under indictment tend to show it wouldn't make much difference.
Reformers should know by now that voters will be of little help in reforming politics. They should also know that the primary purpose of their reform should be to stop special interests, including powerful political machines, from gaining domination over the political process itself and eventually, the whole of government.
Present campaign laws and the evolution of government over the past 25 years paved the way for these powerful groups to do just that.
Prior to the 1970s, government at all levels had relatively little control over business, industry or professionals, other than for ensuring the public's health and safety.
Beginning with the passage of environmental laws and special commissions such as those regulating land use and development, resource extraction, air and water pollution in the early 1970s, government and politicians at every level began to exercise life-and-death control over business and industry. Since the political golden rule says that "Those with the gold make the rules," it wasn't long before politicians interested in power began to raise and pool their money and transfer it to candidates they hoped would join them in creating a majority in the Legislature.
For 14 years, Speaker Willie Brown had good reason to refer to himself as "the ayatollah" of California's Assembly. He and several of his Democrat lieutenants, with the help of money from the teachers union, trial lawyers, organized labor and, in later years, money from almost every part of the private sector, gained the ability to select and elect their majority that controlled the state Assembly for 14 years. They did this within the current laws which allow pooling and transferring of funds.
Brown was brought down when a group of Republican politicians, primarily from Orange County, teamed up with a group of wealthy contributors from the religious right. According to the record and reports in the local press, they wisely invested over $4 million in the last several elections and are now credited with helping elect 28 of the 41-member Republican majority in the 80-member Assembly. Already their new speaker, Curt Pringle of Garden Grove, is being compared to the past "ayatollah" in his defense of stacking the "juice committees" and raising campaign funds.
In addition to the Common Cause initiative, it is expected that one or more reform measures, authored by politicians, will also be on the same ballot. It is commonly understood that these will be designed to confuse voters and probably contain elements that are sure to have all of the reform measures disqualified later by the Supreme Court. It's happened before.
While Common Cause is to be applauded for its efforts, effective political reform, without the full support of an enlightened electorate, appears to be a long way off.