Naked Politics

It should come as no surprise that a professional political operative who prefers to keep the election system closed would be just as adamant in squelching public debate on reform. That’s no doubt why Gale Kaufman, the take-no-prisoners Democratic consultant who ran last year’s successful campaign against Arnold’s special-election proposals, had her lawyers fax over a nasty letter demanding a retraction of last week’s column. Kaufman’s lawyers said she thought it was injurious, unfair and rife with “sexual innuendo that would never have been used against a male political consultant.” I had, in last week’s column, branded her a “political call girl.” Given her line of work, she should not be offended by it, and if she were a man, I would have likely used the term pimp.

I took the plink at Kaufman because, for reasons of egregious political opportunism, she has now joined with Schwarzenegger and his backers at the Chamber of Commerce to help lead this fall’s campaign against Proposition 89, the Clean Money campaign reform measure.

What else to think of a political hack who will devote her considerable talent to sinking a courageous, grassroots measure that — finally — makes an attempt to mitigate the corrosive influence of Big Money in the political process?

And Big Money is exactly what we are talking about. Last year the California Teachers Association shelled out $68 million in its anti-Arnold campaign. As the union’s top consultant, Kaufman was allowed to pocket some industrial-size commissions. And now, the union doesn’t want to surrender its political purchasing power and Kaufman doesn’t want to give up her sinecure, so the fight — the fight against average voters favoring a more level playing field in the electoral arena — is on.

We expect this sort of behavior, don’t we, from the Governator and his big-business friends in the Chamber of Commerce. But there’s something especially unctuous when the Democrats, the supposed friends of the Little Guy, join in. After all, at the annual convention of the California Democratic Party a few months ago, the delegates voted overwhelmingly to make Clean Money election reform one of their platform planks.

Indeed, we now know — thanks to Frank Russo at the California Progress Report — that Kaufman and the CTA are opposing this measure over the heads and against the will and wishes of a big chunk of their own Democratic Party. Over the weekend, the Associated Press incompletely reported that the more than 300 members of the party’s Executive Board had unanimously voted to not endorse the proposal and to, instead, stay neutral. That would be bad enough, that Democrats would declare themselves indifferent to public financing of campaigns. But it’s actually worse than that. Russo reports that more than a third of the members present at that meeting first voted to actively endorse Prop. 89. Every organized caucus in the party, except the labor caucus, eventually came out in favor of the measure. And finally, when sentiment in the meeting room seemed to be tipping toward endorsing the initiative, the ultimate political hack of them all, Party Chair Art Torres, ratcheted up some rhetorical arm twisting and pushed through the final vote of neutrality.

A few days earlier, faltering Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides — fresh out of a $5 million fund-raising dinner — had miraculously endorsed the Clean Money measure. Of course, Phil acted knowing full well that his own party was in no way going to campaign against the measure. And, further, knowing that the party’s deepest pockets, and his own major backer, the CTA, were going to serve as a battering ram against the measure. So you might say that the endorsement from Angelides — a candidate whose campaign has benefited from $10 million this year from his business partner’s AstroTurf expenditure committee — was just a tad calculated and rather hollow, all cooked up mostly to isolate Schwarzenegger rather than to genuinely fight for the proposition.

No matter, for as cynical as Phil’s posture might be, he’d have to stoop a whole lot lower to get down to the level of his friends Gale Kaufman and the CTA, the latter of whom put up three speakers at the Democratic endorsement meeting in opposition to the measure.

The argument against the measure is that one way or another Big Money is going to find its way into campaigns and that unions and Democrats can’t retreat from the frontlines of spending. Jay Hansen, the legislative director of the state’s building trades union council, rebutted that notion at the Democratic meeting. “We can’t win the money war,” he said. “We shouldn’t be spending on endless fund raising. We should be spending on organizing our members.”

Ahjamu Makalani, the African American vice chair of the party’s Progressive Caucus, bolstered those remarks while speaking at the same meeting. He lamented how minorities are the most reliable of Democratic voters and yet they are effectively and unjustly shut out of the system because they can’t compete with the donations lavished by special interests.

Go tell it to Gale Kaufman. As soon as she gets back from the bank — or her lawyer’s office.

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