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Lessons from NASCAR? California Legislators Might have to Wear Donors on their Sleeves – Huh?

CALWATCHDOG-The movement to emblazon state legislators with the logos of their donors has collected tens of thousands of signatures for its would-be ballot initiative. “The measure, formally called the ‘Name All Sponsors California Accountability Reform Initiative,’ (or NASCAR. Get it?) would require all state legislators to wear the emblems or names of their 10 top donors every time they attend an official function,” the Los Angeles Daily News explained.  “The measure’s sponsor, Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox, takes delight in the idea and has already done some touring around California with 120 life-size photographic cutouts of politicians dressed up as they might have to under his plan.” 

Populists Wanted--Cox’s group announced it has already gathered 40,000 signatures out of the 365,880 valid ones necessary to make November’s ballot, telling the Huffington Post they “are confident they can muster enough support.” In an interview with U.S. News, Cox spoke expansively — noting the historically low threshold for signatures based on last election cycle’s low turnout, and banking on a high-energy California electorate in a year when political insurgents have shaken up national politics and captivated Golden State voters: 

“Cox says he’s seeking the endorsements of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom have rallied passionate supporters in part by denouncing their rivals as indentured servants to corporations and other wealthy donors.” 

Cox’s grand vision may resonate especially with Sanders, whose fundraising has been driven almost entirely by small donations, and whose digital strategist is a 24-year-old Eagle Scout from California named Kenneth Pennington. (“Pennington began as a press aide to the senator, where he grew accustomed to typing out the Facebook posts that his boss would think of in the shower and dictate once he arrived in the office,” according to the Associated Press.) 

Although a somewhat related measure, Prop. 89, previously went down to defeat because voters didn’t want to foot the bill for its public financing regime — which “would also have required every privately financed political ad, whether on television or in newspapers or mailed fliers, to list its three biggest financiers in type as large as the biggest print anywhere else in the ad,” as the Daily News noted, adding that Cox, once a Chicago Republican, has pledged to foot $1 million of the bill for NASCAR.

Dem Dollars--In that same 2014 election cycle with historically low turnout, analysts noted that Democrats made out better than Republicans in California, overturning the conventional wisdom that big business interests tip the scales in favor of the GOP. “The biggest donors to statewide races in California for the 2014 election cycle were Kaiser Permanente and Anthem Blue Cross of California, pulling $23 million and $19 million, respectively,” as Al Jazeera America reported. “For the state races, Democrats actually received almost three times as much ($145 million) as Republicans ($52 million). Much of the health care lobbying was around Proposition 45, which would have required insurance companies to provide public notice when raising rates.” 

Despite contempt among some for those perceived to be buying influence, few have raised objections to a twist on the formula. Some high-profile California candidates have begun raffling off perks gained through privileged access in exchange for small donations. Although presidential hopefuls have indulged in the strategy for years, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has gained notice for taking the idea to new heights. Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, he dangled special seats at the Super Bowl before constituents willing to send at least $5 to the gun-control package he has been touting as part of his early-bird run for the governorship. 

“This isn’t Newsom’s first venture into online raffles. In May, for example, the former San Francisco mayor offered the chance to win a pair of tickets to a Giants-Dodgers game to people donating to his 2018 campaign for governor. And in October, that $5 contribution could have turned into seats at a private concert by the band Train and the chance to hang out backstage with Newsom, his family and the band.”

 

(James Poulos writes for CalWatchdog  … where this perspective was originally published.) Photo courtesy of California is Not for Sale. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.