By Brian Brokaw, Alliance for a Better California 2012
On the eve of Tuesday's California Primary, and with the focus soon shifting to the November ballot, let's take a quick look at some spending figures in races throughout the state:
• $7,000,000 (and climbing by the day) = the amount that independent expenditure committees and Super PACs have spent in state legislative races on the June 5th ballot, according to the Sacramento Bee.
• $46,700,000 (and climbing) = the amount that tobacco companies alone have contributed against the tobacco tax measure on Tuesday's ballot, according to maplight.org.
• $0.00 = the amount by which the so-called "Stop Special Interest Money Act" will decrease political spending by billionaires and corporate-funded Super PACs, independent expenditure committees, and ballot measure committees.
• Exponentially = the amount by which Super PAC spending and influence in California will increase if the SSIM measure - more appropriately called the Special Exemptions Act - passes in November.
The drafters of the Special Exemptions Act - the same multimillionaire and billionaire businessmen our nation has to thank for the Citizens United Supreme Court case, as California Watch reported - very carefully wrote the measure to exempt themselves.
According to the SSIM campaign's website: "Among other issues, the initiative was drafted to comply with First Amendment limitations announced by the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010). There the Supreme Court struck down federal election law restrictions on independent expenditures-direct advertising by a corporation or union to promote a point of view such as support for a candidate-but it did not change existing law, which allows restrictions on direct contributions to candidates."
In plain English, that means that Super PACs and independent expenditure committees - which are pumping millions of dollars to influence races up and down California - are EXEMPT. The same exemption, of course, goes for contributions to ballot measures - meaning tobacco companies, for example, will continue to be able to spend tens of millions of dollars on future initiative campaigns, as they have this election cycle to fight the tobacco tax.
Yet if you take the initiative's funders at their word, "Stop Special Interest Money removes Big Money Interests from politics so that public officials will pay more attention to the people who elected them."
The chutzpah of the measure's backers in making such an intentionally misleading claim would almost be laughable - if it weren't for the devastating impact the initiative would have on everyday Californians. While exempting billionaire businessmen and many powerful corporate special interests, the measure takes away the ability of working Californians and their unions to speak out on issues that impact all Californians - like cuts to our schools and colleges, police and fire response times, workplace safety, consumer protections, homeowner rights and unfair corporate tax giveaways.
So as you look at all of the spending in Tuesday's elections, remember that corporations already spend 15-times as much as unions spend on political contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' opensecrets.org. If the Special Exemptions Act were to pass, it would effectively silence the voice of union members while giving corporate special interests and billionaire businessmen free rein to exert even more influence over our political system, and that hurts all of us.