Victory for Campaign Finance Reform
On Tuesday August 20th, the San Jose City Council listened to the concerns of voters and campaign finance reformers and accepted the San Jose Election Commission's recommendation to leave in place the candidate campaign contribution limits.
It's no secret that the flood of private special interest money has been threatening the integrity of our electoral process for decades, or that this situation was exacerbated by the now infamous Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. That decision reasoned that all political speech was sacrosanct and that the source of the speech was irrelevant. In perpetrating this absurdity it not only overturned a century of law and court precedents, but virtually handed the keys to our democracy over to the wealthy institutions and individuals which make up the burgeoning plutocracy that debases and masquerades as our republic.
In last November's municipal elections more independent expenditure money inundated our system in one particular Council race than was spent in all the other Council races combined. Mayor Reed was right to be concerned, and all who value government intent on and capable of acting in the public interest should share his concern and fan it into outrage.
The question then becomes what to do about this sorry state of affairs. Maybe, the Mayor reasoned, we need to consider lifting the contribution limits so candidates could at least try to raise the additional funds necessary to respond to this torrent of attack ads and hit pieces. He wisely referred this to the Election Commission for public hearings and further study.
Fortunately those hearings helped bring to light the downside of inviting even more private money into the political process: the increased time candidates would end up having to spend on raising money, the increased potential for undue influence by those contributing it, and the increased cynicism of voters as they watched the whole unseemly process, wondering more with each election whether their vote counted for anything at all. They also brought to light possible alternatives involving more disclosure of the root sources of all this private money, the driving purpose of bills like the California DISCLOSE Act (SB 52) now working its way through the state legislature, a bill specifically referenced by the Commission's report.
And that brings us back to the recent Council meeting which began this discussion. The public hearings helped inform the Commission's recommendation to leave the current candidate contribution limits in place, and the Council's unanimous decision to accept that recommendation represents a small but important victory in our quest for a more functional democracy. May we see many more, and soon.