Pump up democracy, not pay-to-play

Susan Lerner is executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign

Why did Governor Schwarzenegger never mention publicly that he had signed a deal worth up to $8 million with a publisher of muscle magazines in the days before his swearing in? Did he have something to hide?

When the governor vetoed a bill last fall that would have prohibited high-school athletes from taking particular “performance-enhancing” supplements and likely would have affected the ad revenue of muscle magazines, was he acting in the best interest of the people of California, or was he looking out for the profits of a company beefing up his wallet?

Undoubtedly, these were some of the questions in people’s minds when the story of the governor’s hidden contract came to light last week. To his credit, after the revelation and subsequent media frenzy, Schwarzenegger finally did the right thing and canceled the deal. But the major damage was already done.

This questionable deal has no doubt tremendously exacerbated the public’s perception that the government’s decisions aren’t based on what is best for all Californians. Governor Schwarzenegger ran on the platform of taking money out of politics, yet this revelation appeared to be an egregious example of the very type of pay-to-play favoritism that he campaigned against.

Simply terminating his contract after these questions have been raised is not enough. Until we change the culture of money in Sacramento, our democracy will continue to suffer, and people’s faith in government will remain at record lows. What California needs more than anything else right now is a proven fix to the problem of money in politics: “clean money,” the full public financing of campaigns.

Already working well in Arizona and Maine, “clean money” is an innovative yet practical way of ending the problems of pay-to-play and increasing government accountability. Rather than soliciting private donations from sources that likely will want favors down the road, clean-money candidates run for office using public funds. Consequently, clean candidates take office beholden to the voters, instead of major donors.

If Governor Schwarzenegger wishes to restore the public’s trust, he should put some supplement-enhanced muscle behind the “cleaning up Sacramento” campaign promises he used so successfully to propel himself into office and champion the only proven solution to the problem of money in politics: clean money, the full public financing of campaigns.