Take it back

Back in the 1960s, Bob Dylan wrote, “Money doesn’t talk; it swears.” And since he wrote those words, the swearing has gotten louder, with the roar of special-interest money now so loud that almost nothing else can be heard above that swearing.

Now, however, we have the opportunity to do more than just gripe about the problem. Proposition 89 offers California voters the opportunity to change the way our election campaigns get funded, eliminating the debt our politicians wind up owing to special interests.

With a small tax on corporations (that would amount to less than they are already spending in earmarked political donations anyway), our political process could be transformed. Candidates could serve principle rather than beginning their political lives in hock to contributors.

But it won’t be easy getting this measure passed, because the same special interests that like buying disproportionate influence with our legislators have dumped bundles of money into the campaign to defeat Prop. 89.

Who, exactly, is paying to persuade the electorate to maintain the status quo? Round up the usual suspects. There’s a raft of insurance companies, including Zenith, State Farm, Mercury and Fireman’s Fund. There’s a bunch of developers and real-estate interests, including Pardee Homes and Granite Construction Inc. Sprint/Nextel is also paying to defeat Prop. 89, as is an array of political-action committees devoted to protecting a range of special interests. The California Business Properties Association PAC, the Doctors’ Company PAC and the California Restaurant Association Issues PAC are among those political-action committees looking to ensure that money continues to make itself heard over the voice of the people. And the California Chamber of Commerce is pretty sure the sky will fall if Prop. 89 is passed.

And, under the heading of “politics makes strange bedfellows,” we can add the name of the California Teachers Association, a group that has been quite happy with the clout it has been able to buy through campaign donations to politicians who take that money in exchange for votes that favor teachers but don’t always enhance education. The CTA bullied the state Democratic Party into taking a “neutral” position on Prop. 89.

That kind of heavy-handed cash clout led the Democrats to a craven capitulation of principles of the kind Prop. 89 seeks to correct. To his credit, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides has not taken a neutral position on Prop. 89. He supports it vigorously.

So should anyone who cares about clean and responsive government untainted by the corruption of money.

Really, folks, this is a no-brainer. We either want to stop the corrosive and anti-democratic effects of special-interest money, or we don’t. Big-money PACs have created a vast pool of cynicism about the very idea of the democratic process, and that cynicism has turned far too many voters away from the polls, convinced that their votes mean nothing against the power of corporate clout. But if we deny big money the power to once again stifle the popular will with misleading campaign advertising, we can extinguish that cynicism and take back our democracy. Vote yes on 89.