Last month I wrote about a rumor going around saying that bigtime Democratic Party consultant Gale Kaufman was going to lead the campaign against upcoming ballot measure Proposition 89 — the so-called Clean Money reform that would finally bring public financing to California elections.
You have to be careful publishing rumors. Sometimes they are false. But this time it was right. When I called Kaufman’s office originally to confirm what I had heard from other sources, her flunkies told me she was out of town and no one had any clue about what I was talking about. Right, they were all out partying at the bar mitzvah that Mel Gibson was throwing for his kid.
Turns out that Kaufman had, indeed, made the deal before I called and her office knew very well that she was already planning to work for the Dark Side. So shame on Kaufman. No, make that double shame. Not because she cowardly dodged my query. But for so brazenly operating as a political call girl.
Kaufman had won wide-based respect for the brick-crushing campaign she led last fall against Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special-election proposals. She honed the labor-funded Alliance for a Better California into a diamond-tipped spear and stuck it right through the heart of Arnold and his probusiness agenda. She won an award as political consultant of the year. Her name became a household word among Democrats who celebrated her as a modern-day dragon killer.
But that was then. This is now. Kaufman has now put on her jammies, clambered into the big four-poster bed with a nice, warm bottle of milk and is snuggling up not only with Schwarzenegger, but also with her supposed blood rivals at the Chamber of Commerce. And she’s brought along her friends from the state teachers union to join the slumber party. Not that any of them are planning to get much shuteye. This motley crew, in fact, plans to toil tirelessly together until November, doing what they can, working their special magic, hoping that we — the voters — are the ones who are going to fall asleep. Or at least fall for their BS.
What else could unite Democrats and Republicans, Big Business and Big Labor, conservatives and liberals, other than opposition to a citizen-backed initiative that would help remove Big Money from the election process? Prop. 89 would bring to California the same sort of system already present in Arizona, Maine and a few other states in which candidates who forego private funding receive full public financing. It’s absolutely the right way to open up and reform the political process. And while Clean Money programs are not perfect, they go a very long way toward enhancing democracy and curbing institutionalized bribery.
The California version of the initiative was qualified for the ballot by the feisty California Nurses Association (which led last fall’s ground war against the governor) and has since been endorsed by good-government groups like the League of Women Voters, California Common Cause, Public Campaign and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. Schwarzenegger, who in the past has mumbled some support for campaign-finance reform, has since come out against the measure. And Phil Angelides (you remember him, don’t you?) has — are you ready? — yet to take a position. At least not publicly. In fact, Angelides’ position is well known: it’s supine. He’s almost totally financed by the California Teachers Association, so when his patrons order him to stay after school to help campaign against Prop. 89, you know he can be counted on.
Since 1999, the teachers union has given more than $13 million to individual political candidates and has spent many, many times that figure in “independent expenditure” campaigns. And the Chamber of Commerce, defending the state’s wealthiest business interests, has spent even more. Both groups, which blew tens of millions battling on opposite sides of last fall’s special-election measures, now agree it would be a pity to institute a system that would reduce the ability of either one to purchase political influence. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Kaufman has the unmitigated gall to claim that opposing Prop. 89 is a matter of fairness. She told the press this week that while last fall’s “paycheck protection” measure proposed by the governor unfairly singled out labor, Prop. 89 unduly focuses on business. “When you focus on one group and say they can’t play,” Kaufman said, straining to keep a straight face, “that’s not fair whether you like those people or not, whether you think they have too much influence or not.”
That, by the way, is what you call a lie. Kaufman knows perfectly well that Prop. 89 very fairly and equitably blocks both sides — business and labor — from making humongous political contributions. No distinction whatsoever is made between the two groups by the proposal measure.
What’s really at stake here are the narrow interests of Kaufman and her clients. The teachers, like the developers and bankers, want to continue to be free to finance and field candidates of their choice. And Kaufman very much wants to continue making her commissions off these same, shameless campaigns that insult the intelligence of the citizenry.
And some of you still wonder why Democrats lose so many elections? Could it be that the apathetic nonvoters just may be right? That if you scratch away any of the surface gleam on the candidates and their teams, underneath you find the same old tin-pot junk?