Why it’s so important to achieve campaign finance reform in San Luis Obispo

The common method of electing representatives across our country requires the use of private money to fund the campaigns of our public officials. The use of private funds to elect our public representatives creates an inherent conflict of interest between private donors (typically those with disposable wealth) and the community interest. Does the CEO of a company taking home 300 times the wages of his/her factory workers worry about the same issues as his/her employees? The need for money to run a campaign creates not only a prejudice of the candidates to appeal to a very, very narrow slice of wealthy donors, but a gratitude for those donors who support them. Study after study shows us that legislative outcomes – the rules that we are governed by – are determined by money and not majoritarian democracy. And the more money is involved in the process, be it the cost of the campaign or a compensating salary, the greater the threat of corruption by gratitude. It is a natural response for humans to feel gratitude when someone helps us. That gratitude is as subconscious and motivating in a similar way as we commonly use sex in selling products.

Diffusing and de-personalizing the source of campaign funds from a few wealthy individuals to the community at large allows the elections and the subsequent legislation of those elected officials to be about the best ideas for the community rather than a prejudice of gratitude that leans toward the interests of a few wealthy donors. Every city council member recognizes that conflict of interest at county, state, and federal level.

I understand the need for campaign finance reform in the county and state level, but I have yet to hear a legitimate argument for it in our City.

It is important to recognize the full responsibilities and value of the city council as a representative body. If city council were only to decide about which street gets pothole repair we wouldn’t need leaders – just managers. Our elected city council are our first line and most accessible body of government. As such, city council represents our present community interests to other cities, the county, the state, and to some extent the federal government on issues that concern us. We even have a sister city across the globe. We recognize that even as a small community that we have a part to play in the larger picture. That’s why, for example, we have a climate action plan in a city that, by itself, has no life threatening pollution. How will SLO behave now that our federal government has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Treaty? Sometimes the city must play a contributing role. That’s why council has asked staff to review our options to endorse the universal health bill SB562. Why resolutions are passed such as 10395 (2012 Series) A Resolution Of The City Of San Luis Obispo Supporting A Constitutional Amendment Restricting Corporate Spending In The Electoral Process. The responsibility of our representative council is to assert our community interests not merely within our borders but beyond to the county, state and federal level as well. Social and political change begins at the local level partly because the system at the higher levels is out of reach for most activism. Campaign finance reform is no different.

Consider some conflicts we’ve had at the local level. Out of town developers applying pressure to our local government to push building projects like the Dalidio shopping center, or the 900 new homes above Pismo Beach where the city council was accused of being in collusion with the developer. The outrage over the preferential treatment given the Santa Margarita Ranch by outgoing Supervisors Lenthall, Achadjian, Ovitt in 2008 to push through a housing project before their terms expired. In January the board of Supervisors battled over whether or not Lynn Compton was acting on behalf of developers regarding a Sheriff’s substation.

Assuming for the moment that ethics are not in question in any of those cited examples, SCOTUS recognizes that “the appearance of corruption is equal to corruption itself because the assumption of corruption undermines the faith and trust constituents must place in their government and elected officials.” Public financing is a protection for our elected representatives from the appearance of corruption which is extremely important to insure civic participation and faith in our governance.

Clearly, city residents ARE affected by money in politics. Our community does not answer solely to the governance of our city council. We are also affected by the laws created by the county, state, and federal legislatures. For example, at the federal level alone, Mainstreet Association estimates that legislation favoring large corporations who can afford lobbying, costs Mom and Pop small businesses $2200 a year. Please see this recent article by Bill Moyers.

In my experience, having lobbied at all levels of government, not one of the representatives that I’ve spoken with will admit to being influenced by donations despite all of the evidence to the contrary. I believe it is our City Council’s obligation to stand up for our community and demand change of our corrupted democracy. Speaking out as a community of citizens is an extremely important step in correcting this problem within, and beyond, our city limits. Small communities like ours are petri dishes for new ideas in our democracy. One of the most important means of asserting our interest in removing money in politics is to normalize publicly funded elections.

And, as a civil rights matter, the steep cost of campaigns dissuades or even prevents individuals from lower socio-economic circles from running for office. In SLO, approximately 40 families, or about 150 people, routinely finance nearly all of our council candidates each election. The hurdle of raising money for those in less advantaged socio-economic levels can dissuade some from participating in our governance. This has an enormous long term ripple effect because it is normal for those who attain office to be the candidates who run for future higher office. This personal momentum by successful politician fundraisers homogenizes our political discourse. Issue empathies reflect the socio-economic priorities and ideas of donors rather than the average community member which are then carried into higher office. Enshrining money as the gateway to being part of our governance propagates the strategy that money is more important than ideas. In my opinion, former city councilman Dan Carpenter, in an effort to appease his donor base to achieve higher office as a county supervisor, reversed his second vote to move our ordinance forward just a week after stating publicly in council that he was voting for public financing because, he “…was elected to lead”. His reversal is a good example of placing his campaign’s need for money above his stated duty for the office he then occupied. Corruption happens in SLO and SLO must be the change in the system that it advocates of others. SLO cannot pretend to operate above the system.

By showing that public financing works, we normalize the behavior for the county, state and federal government to follow our lead.

Saying that CFR is comparable to our Climate Action Plan is an oversimplification. Climate Action does more than clear up air pollution in our direct area. Banning smoking, banning plastic bags, banning single use plastic water bottles, are city issues. How does changing SLO’s election system address blatant issues at the county, state, and federal level?

The environmental issues such as “Banning smoking, banning plastic bags, banning single use plastic water bottles” has it’s parallel in our existing election laws: CFR has contribution limits, disclosure forms, independent expenditure rules, etc., all to keep the political environment clean and prevent toxicity. The city recognizes that even our relatively healthy community is emitting green house gases and wants to do what we can as part of the “whole”. That is exactly the same approach and sensitivity that should be applied to CFR – both efforts recognize our part in the bigger scheme of things. Children here in the city of SLO are not having asthma problems as a result of our air pollution such as those who are living next to busy highways in big cities like L.A. for example. Likewise, we do not suffer the same level of big money in politics from our local actions. City Council understands and has taken action regarding our participation in the consequences of climate action that go beyond our city limits. That is why we spend city tax money to employ a full time employee to work at becoming carbon neutral at a cost of about $180K a year, on buying new fleet vehicles, and spending staff time writing new rules, to address an issue that is not a “city problem.”

It is oxymoronic to recognize the necessity of immediate action regarding the climate while being indifferent to money in politics. Sen. James Inhofe (R), Oklahoma, is the leader of the Senate committee on the environment. He wrote the book, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” One of the reasons Sen. Inhofe remains in office at the age of 82 is because his biggest contributors are the fossil fuel industry. Money in politics is the single biggest impediment to strong environmental solutions and tax policy. If you are concerned with the global perspective on climate change and act upon that as a small town in a rural community where people choose bikes and electric vehicles and solar panels, then the idea that you have a role to play beyond our city limits in CFR is a given. Establishing a clean political climate is our obligation.

You cannot say that we have the same level of campaign financing issues that the County does. Why not take a version of the ordinance to the county or work to get a different Board of Supervisors elected?

We are.

It’s true that the county has very little in the way of campaign funding rules. Unfortunately, until just this past fall of 2016 there was a law preventing counties from establishing publicly funded campaigns. That rule was recently repealed. We have been speaking and lobbying the supervisors on this issue for years and they all agree that something needs to be done. County Board of Supervisors campaigns are now running from 10 to 20 times more costly than a SLO City Council race. More money in the race makes the effort to pass meaningful reform about 10 to 20 times more difficult. The supporting members of CFR on the board all say the same thing: “Get it done in the city of SLO first.” SLO city council members are not making a living off of their salaries, nor do they have high campaign costs. This is both why they haven’t had the same levels of corruption, and more importantly in this case, why SLO city council, uniquely, can show leadership in creating the means to remove private money from the elections of our public officials.

The city has issues of unfunded liabilities and there has been rumors of this being very expensive. Who pays for this?

Every aspect of our elections – including the salaries of the winning candidates who we might not have voted for – are paid for by the public. Only the campaigns themselves are left to be funded by private money. We all pay for our governments infrastructure to insure fair use by everyone.

Our challenges with the unfunded liabilities of our pension plans did not start in one year and will not be resolved in one year. In our present iteration, our ordinance caps the city’s liability for campaigns at $80K ($40K a year). Even at that low number we would not use all of the money. Out of a $120 million budget, that is indeed a small number. As for taking money away from other programs, that isn’t necessarily so. Reconciliations of unspent funds from previous year allocations, sin taxes, donations, etc., could all be considered beyond the general fund. Do we really feel that $1 a year per city resident is too much to pay to reduce the influence of private money in the elections of our public officials, especially if it can pave the way for the county, state, and federal elections that we all see have a problem with money?

We respect that City Council’s job is to be responsible stewards of our city budget. City staff’s first report on the cost of implementing the voucher program was wildly inflated as a precaution. For example, the assistant City Attorney allocated 1/3 of his time to deal with election malfeasance when he spends almost no time doing that now. Full time employee costs were budgeted both for a volunteer position and for someone to administer the program that operates for 4 months every other year. Moreover, the budget assumed that 100% of the registered voters of SLO would use their $20 vouchers and that candidates would spend 10 times more than they have customarily spent in previous elections. Those miscalculations or misunderstandings, unfairly and needlessly, inflated the cost of this ordinance by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Recently, the city found $186,000 for cost of living increases for SLO administrative employees. We annually pay $315K for our city manager (60% more than the governor of our state), and $270K for our city attorney. Why is it so hard to find $40,000 (annually) to run candidates impartially and address the most fundamentally corrosive problems to our governance? Why can we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a climate action plan but nothing on a democracy voucher plan? What do civil rights cost?

One cost that is never considered: Between Citizens Congress and the Campaign Legal Center in D.C., we have spent thousands and thousands of dollars and hours – at no cost to the city – to create an ordinance that we believe addresses CFR in the best interest of our city and the Republic at large, the holdings of the SCOTUS, and free speech, while addressing socio-economic inequalities, apathy, and the contempt that most citizens rightly feel for our government.

Understand What “Big Money in Politics” Really Means

A “must read” report from Demos.org. Author Sean McElwee advises “to understand what big money in politics means, it is important to understand the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ of political donations: who is spending big money on elections, and what do they want?


For offline reading, you can download the report Whose Voice, Whose Choice? in PDF format.

How SCOTUS Campaign Finance Rulings ‘Distorted’ US Democracy

A few reasons we don’t have Universal Healthcare

We Need Your Voice at the SLO City Council on May 2nd at 6:00 p.m

The SLO Progressives campaign finance committee as well as Together We Will have committed to collaborate with Citizens Congress to bring our publicly funded elections legislation, INTEGRITY IN OUR ELECTIONS ORDINANCE, to SLO City Council on May 2nd at 6:00 p.m.

During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, we will request that City Council place consideration of a publicly funded elections ordinance on their official agenda in the near future.

The action will only require about 45 minutes of time at the council meeting to secure a date for a public hearing.

It is imperative to have as many people as possible attend the event to give council members the show of support they need.

Because the city has many budget requests, we need to demonstrate to council members support for a very inexpensive program that would be capped at $80,000 (By comparison, the city manager’s annual compensation is currently $315,000).

The need for private funding to elect our public officials creates a corruptive influence of our democratic process.

This is the fundamental issue that impacts all  other issues.

Publicly funded elections not only support the interests of the community as a whole, they also helps insulate our representatives from the appearance of corruption that can occur when an issue comes before the council that involves a campaign donor’s interest.

San Luis Obispo has the responsibility to enact locally what we demand of our state and national leaders – to push back against the SCOTUS’s pernicious Citizens United decision that has wrested majoritarian democracy from our governance and insured that our legislative outcomes lean not to the community but to the moneyed interests.

If we understand the need for a climate action plan in a city with little pollution, then we must also recognize the necessity of local campaign finance reform in a city with low contribution limits.

Read the current draft of the INTEGRITY IN OUR ELECTIONS ORDINANCE.

Compendium

Herewith is a compendium of national campaign finance reform in America today including bills presently proposed before Congress.  It is a research effort.

Citizens Congress Compendium

This compendium is meant to assist your own knowledge base and give everyone a basic, even starting point. The idea of the Citizens Congress is for idea sharing, discourse, and developing a national strategy that we can all get behind. Not a series of lectures per se.

Some articles and reports were too long to include in their original full form. In those cases we gave the authors’ summations and/or a link to the full report. It would be too lengthy to catalog all of the state initiatives as well.

Citizens Congress Compendium

As it is, this compilation is 145 pages in length. I encourage you to please print this document and bring it with you to the Citizens Congress for reference.

You are encouraged to share it. Please credit the authors and sources. We look forward to your participation in Citizens Congress.

Thank you,

Bill Ostrander – Director

Citizens Congress Compendium, 05/21/2014

Legalized Bribery

Zephyr Teachout on Sheldon Silver, Corruption and New York Politics

The New York Times 

LAST Thursday, Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York Assembly for the past 20 years, was arrested and charged with mail and wire fraud, extortion and receiving bribes. According to Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who brought the charges, the once seemingly untouchable Mr. Silver took millions of dollars for legal work he did not do. In exchange, he used his official power to steer business to a law firm that specialized in getting tax breaks for real estate developers, and he directed state funds to a doctor who referred cases to another law firm that paid Mr. Silver fees.

Albany is reeling, but fighting the kind of corruption that plagues not only New York State but the whole nation isn’t just about getting cuffs on the right guy. As with the recent conviction of the former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for receiving improper gifts and loans, a fixation on plain graft misses the more pernicious poison that has entered our system.

Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.

The former governor of New York David A. Paterson, for example, said that he had trouble understanding where the criminality lay in the allegation that Mr. Silver accepted payments from law firms for referrals, including referrals by a doctor to whom Mr. Silver funneled state health research funds. Mr. Paterson said, “in the legal profession, people refer business all the time. And theoretically, as a speaker, you could do that as well.”

The legal shades into the illegal. The real estate developers represented by the law firm that allegedly shuttled payments to Mr. Silver for fake legal services were also major campaign contributors. One developer mentioned in the charges gave more than $10 million to political campaigns in the past decade, including $200,000 to Mr. Silver and his political action committees.

The structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians, so that they can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day. When you spend a lifetime serving campaign donors, it may seem easy to serve them when they come with an outright bribe, because it doesn’t seem that different.

Mr. Silver retained such tight control over budgets and lawmaking in Albany that his staffers were regarded as more powerful than most elected representatives. As a Democrat who cares about education, I can’t say that I loved seeing Mr. Silver, a great public school advocate, in handcuffs. For others, there’s glee in seeing the perp walk. But one high-profile indictment does not represent the dawn of a new democracy.

There’s one last thing we should do: ban corporate spending and limit total campaign spending. Last week not only saw Mr. Silver in handcuffs, it also marked the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, in which the Supreme Court decided that outside corporate spending was in no way corrupting. We will have to revisit that decision, but we don’t need to wait for the court to act.

Corruption is about greed and private interests put ahead of the public good. Whether influence is bought through a bribe, outside spending, outside income or campaign contributions, the public suffers in the same way. Until we move past scandals toward structural change, our democracy will suffer, too.

Full Article

Fifth Anniversary of Citizens United Ruling

citizens congress

January 21 marks the fifth anniversary of the “Citizens United” ruling.  That’s five years of corporations and outside groups spending unlimited amounts on elections. Five years of super PACs and shadowy nonprofits.  Five years of diluting voters’ voices with growing sums of cash.

We’re marking the fifth anniversary by joining with our national partners, including our friends at Every Voice, to deliver 5 million signatures against the ruling to the Senate on January 21st.

Sign the petition with our partners at Every Voice and get on the record — tell the Senate you don’t support unregulated cash buying our elections!

Here’s what Every Voice’s petition says:

“We, the undersigned, urge the Senate to repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling with a constitutional amendment that allows local, state, and federal governments to place commonsense limits on campaign contributions.  We support political reform that places everyday Americans, not billionaire and corporate donors, at the center of our democracy.

Kevin Yoder MIA After Tucking Wall Street Bailout Into Government Spending Bill

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
From The Huffington Post 
 
WASHINGTON — For all the anger among progressives about a Wall Street bailout provision that made its way into the just-passed $1.1 trillion government spending bill, there’s been little attention on the person who put it in there.
 
Meet Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas).
 
Yoder, a second-term congressman whose largest contributors are in the finance industry, introduced the provision last summer. It was literally written by Citigroup executives, but Yoder took their language and rolled it into an amendment to a spending bill in a House subcommittee meeting. It got swept into the year-end spending package because it “was within the scope of negotiations” on it, according to an Appropriations Committee aide.
 
The provision, which prompted a fiery speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), undoes a rule that prevents big banks from relying on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to bail them out if things go sour when they trade risky assets. The rule was put into place as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which overhauled the financial regulatory system after the 2007-2008 financial crisis stemming from banks making extremely risky bets and losing. The government had to bail them out with taxpayer money, and Yoder’s provision paves the way for another possible bailout.
 
Yoder has been mum about the spending package since it passed the House. His office hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment on why he slipped the Citigroup language into it. The press statements on his website say nothing about the provision or the spending bill. There are no posts about it on his Facebook page. He’s said nothing in his Twitter feed.
 
But a look at the comments on Yoder’s Facebook page shows that some people, including Kansas voters, are catching on that he was the one behind the Wall Street provision. And they’re not happy.
 
“I have always voted for you, Congressman Yoder, but I am disappointed with your yes vote on the Omnibus bill and we, your constituents, deserve an explanation as to why,” writes Dianne Lavenburg, who lives in DeSoto, Kansas. “[P]lease clarify your involvement regarding the taxpayer bailouts for risky bank investments also included in the Omnibus bill.”
 
“How much did Citi donate in exchange for you inserting their requested verbiage?” asks Kevin West, who studies at Kansas State University.
 
“Why is there a Wall Street giveaway in the Continuing Resolution? Did you learn nothing during the last cycle of collapse and bailouts? Plain ignorance, or willful ignorance?” says Rich Reavis, who plays in a band called Rail Dog that performs around Kansas. “Did you speak out against putting that crap in the CR?”
 
Scott Gregory of Roeland Park, Kansas, which falls in Yoder’s district, says, “I’m sure the good folks of the 3rd District were just beating down the door to get CITI favored treatment. You are a sell-out to Wall Street lobbyists.”
 
Citibank maintains the rule change is good for everyone. Asked for comment on the provision being included in a must-pass bill, a company spokeswoman pointed HuffPost to a recent blog post by Ed Skyler, executive vice president for global public affairs, outlining why banks back the provision being repealed.
 
“Citi is strongly committed to the safety and soundness of the financial system. We also support a regulatory framework in which U.S. companies can be as competitive as possible,” Skyler writes. “This correction to the ‘swaps push-out’ provision supports both goals.”
 
To be clear, lawmakers in both parties supported the bank provision by voting for the spending package. Republican leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Democratic leaders in the Senate and appropriations committee chairs on both sides of the aisle, were in favor of including the provision. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the lead appropriator in the Senate, actively defended the bank language.
 
The vote created unusual fractures in the House, where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) broke from Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in opposing it. The bill also led to odd alliances in the Senate, where Warren and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) found themselves united against it. The final House vote can be seen here. The Senate vote is here.
 
Language has been added to note that lawmakers of both parties voted for the Wall Street provision.

Illinois, California & Vermont call to Overturn Citizens United

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 12.25.26 PM

Great News!  Another state officially calls to overturn Citizens United!

From The California Clean Money Campaign
Last week, Illinois became the third state to take decisive action against unlimited spending in political campaigns by officially calling for an Article V constitutional convention to overturn Citizens United.

Illinois follows California, which itself made an official call for an Article V convention this June when it passed AJR 1, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles).

Clean Money supporters like you played a crucial role — thousands of you emailed and called your legislators urging them to pass it!
“Passage of AJR 1 may mark a turning point in our nation’s history. …if other states follow California and Vermont’s lead, we have the hope of bringing sanity back to our democracy whether Congress acts or not.”

Congratulations to Illinois legislators for their strong leadership, and major kudos to our friends at Wolf PAC and all the activists in Illinois.  There’s still a long way to go, but it’s a great start

« Older posts

© 2017 citizens congress

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑