Monday, November 05, 2012

Money Money Money

I seriously considered taking a mental health day today, but I need to vent a little more on the outrageous amount of money being poured in elections.  On Saturday I posted on the Open Secrets summary of expenditures for the national elections.  Yesterday I read Michael Hiltzig's report on the money pouring into the campaigns for and against the various propositions on the ballot in California.

As I've mention before, the California legislators are apparently incapable of doing their jobs when it comes to making hard decisions.  They don't want to risk making their owners or the voters unhappy, so the tough issues wind up on the ballot in one form or another.  Additionally, special interest groups, understanding the legislators reluctance, figure if they can get enough signatures and money, they can bypass elected officials completely.  Either way, it's a lousy system.  That's unfortunate because the initiative process wasn't designed for this kind of manipulation.

Michael Hiltzig would agree, I believe:

No one today can overlook that it's California's self-indulgent initiative process that's attracting the big political bucks into the state, the way a magnet attracts scrap iron. Year in, year out, the torrent of spending on initiative campaigns swamps the money spent on traditional candidates.

Tuesday's ballot, with 11 propositions attracting $350 million in campaign spending, is another data point. Not even Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign in 2010, in which the candidate spent $144 million of her own money on her way to a $160-million bottom line, comes close — and that exercise in futility set a spending record. ...

The typical initiative campaign today consists of flagrantly misleading TV commercials produced by companies or wealthy individuals intent on concealing how the passage or defeat of a given measure will line their pockets with gold. With the exception of Steyer's Proposition 39, Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax initiative and a handful of non-economic measures, Tuesday's lineup mostly involves narrow corporate goals on one side or another.   [Emphasis added]

 Given those corporate goals, it's really no mystery where a lot of the money is coming from.

Looking at contributions of more than $1-million among the top contributors on each initiative (thanks to for crunching the data from the California secretary of state's office), we find that about $80.5 million came directly from corporations. Most of that was spent by Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo and other food mega-marketers to defeat Proposition 37, which mandates the labeling of foods prepared with genetically modified ingredients (some foods, not all, which is a major problem with the measure).

But that's just $80.5 million on one proposition.  There are many more, and money has been pouring in on both sides of each issue.  Hiltzig examines some of the other big spenders, including unions which are bitterly fighting Prop 32, which effectively bans unions from making political contributions to all kinds of election matters yet does not include a similar ban for other special interests including corporations.

That points us to the principle that initiative spending often begets more initiative spending: None of that money would have to be donated if not for the $60 million in influence on the other side devoted to stripping unions of their political voice.

So, that's why this election has turned out to be so expensive.  It shows just what the priorities of the corporate interests, i.e., our owners, actually are.  The state of California and 99% of its citizens are far down the list of the priorities, if they are there at all.  With understated eloquence, Hiltzig provides a gauge:

...What would $350 million buy out in the cruel, cold world? It would cover 10%, maybe even 15%, of the cost of American Red Cross relief for East Coast residents battered by Hurricane Sandy. It would cover four years' tuition and fees (at current rates) for 2,760 students at the University of California, or 14,657 students at Cal State.

Or it could reverse almost all of Gov. Brown's budget cuts for CalWORKS, the relief program for families with dependent children, including restoration of the exemption from work requirements for parents with a child at home under the age of 2. It could lessen by two-thirds the impact of budget cuts on the state's community colleges if Brown's Proposition 30 tax increases don't pass. If your social empathy lies elsewhere, it could make the investment bankers at Swiss-based UBS entirely whole on their losses from the botched initial public stock offering of Facebook.


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