Yesterday, Chamber of Commerce Prez Allan Zaremberg, who Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to as “Moses” for leading him to power, charged at a Sacramento press conference that the California Nurses Association’s real intention in passing Prop 89 is to silence the voice of big corporations in politics and to achieve universal health care. As Zaremberg put it, “to eliminate the ability of business to communicate with the voters.”
Forget for a moment that big industries being afraid of nurses may be one of the big selling points for Prop 89 with the public. Or the fact that the cash register politics of the Chamber and its biggest members are responsible for the great public outrages of the last decade from California’s energy crisis, to the high price of health care to the sky-high price of gasoline.
Let’s look for a second at Zaremberg’s claim about big business not being able to speak politically under Prop 89. Under Prop 89, big corporations could not do two things 1. Purchase politicians 2. Write blank checks from corporate treasuries for ballot initiatives.
#1 True, if a politician accepts public financing from taxpayers, the Chamber could not give that politician a bribe to vote as it wants. And if a company chooses to threaten a publicly funded politician with a big independent expenditure (the silent threat that prevents public officials from voting their hearts) the publicly funded candidate gets more money. But corporations and the chamber can spend unlimited amounts on issue ads. They can fight over the issues on the air, just not threaten candidates directly. Hardly, a termination of the corporation’s right to speak to voters.
#2 In the initiative process, under Prop 89, a few big pharmaceutical companies could no longer write unlimited checks totaling $70 million to kill prescription drug reform, as they did with Prop 79 and 80 last year. But, under Prop 89, the CEOs of those companies, investors, and managers can spend as much as they want to advocate for or against ballot measures through political action committees set up by the companies.
Exxon, which is making about $8 billion per quarter these days, couldn’t write a blank check because such checks prevent anyone else from being heard and corrupt the process. The CEO of Exxon, who made $400 million last year, could write a check to a ballot measure for whatever amount he wants. Big companies will hardly have a tough time competing in the initiative process by tapping their executives, investors and management, but the overall spending will go down and that’s good for democracy.
The playing field is tilted way toward Zaremberg’s industries now, and Prop 89 simply evens it up a little by forcing big companies to organize their people for big initiative contributions rather than let Exxon steal from us at the pump to give unlimited amounts to initiatives that hurt consumers.
The hyperbolic fear you hear in Zaremberg’s voice comes from the threat of a shakeup to the special interest establishment. Sacramento needs it, and the public wants it.
Jamie Court is the President of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). He is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The Los Angeles Times calls Court “a tireless consumer advocate.” The Wall Street Journal writes, “He’s notorious for his dramatic, sharp-tongued attacks on the health- and auto-insurance industries, and on any politician who takes their campaign cash.
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