Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Strange Bedfellows: Prop. 89

Strange Bedfellows
It’s amazing who’ll climb under the sheets to keep Big Money in politics
Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - 6:00 pm
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.
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