If you are bemused by the success of populist candidates for President, if you think national politics in America is at risk of becoming a circus spectacle, get ready. Because that circus is coming to California. Southern California businessman John Cox is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that will require state politicians to wear the logos of their top ten campaign contributors.
If voters approve this measure, every time a state senator or member of the assembly votes on the floor or in a committee, they will have to wear these logos on their jackets. As the text of the initiative puts it, “the disclosure shall be printed clearly and legibly, be conspicuous and in a type size sufficient that it can be read by a member of the public observing any public session of the Legislature or a Committee thereof.”
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. But then again, isn’t Cox’s initiative just making explicit what everybody’s known for a very long time? As Cox puts it, “unions and corporations have too much power and it’s time we stand up and fight. The ‘California is Not For Sale Initiative’ will bring a level of transparency never before seen in politics.”
For those of us who’ve been trying to expose the inordinate influence government unions have on California’s state legislature, passage of Cox’s initiative will have tremendous educational value. Because the vast majority of politicians in the chambers would be sporting the logos of government unions, not private corporations, contrary to the popular wisdom these unions purchased through literally billions in taxpayer funded propaganda over the past 30 years. The most likely top logo? CTA.
When asked if this initiative might be viewed as a political stunt rather than a serious attempt at reform, Cox didn’t hesitate. “This is part of a long-range plan,” he said, “sometimes you need ridicule and satire to get people to focus on the problem.”
It’s interesting to wonder how politicians will adapt to the “Name All Sponsors Candidate Accountability Reform Initiative,” because Cox is serious. He’s putting some of his own substantial fortune into paid signature gathering, and in addition to growing media coverage (US News, Salon, Washington Times, Al Jazeera), campaign reform advocates from outside California have expressed an interest in assisting his campaign.
If Cox’s measure qualifies for the November 2016 ballot, who would vote against it? And how would anyone oppose it? Who will oppose the “wealthy out-of-state special interests behind this sinister measure,” when those interests include campaign reform democrats like Lawrence Lessig and Ben Cohen? Will the unions be quiescent? Will the CTA concede, without a fight, that starting in January 2017, their logo will probably occupy top position on more legislator’s jackets than any other special interest?
The bipartisan support for Cox’s initiative is encouraging. Because the discussion it generates will help dispel the myth that there is opposition between crony corporate interests and public sector union interests. The truth is that these interests work together. The operative political philosophy in Sacramento is cronyism. Business interests avoid direct conflict with government unions because those unions decide what legislation gets advanced and what legislation is stopped. And if these unions increase taxes and regulations to further their agenda, and in the process they destroy small businesses, large corporations have less competitors. It’s a win-win for the cronies.
It will be fun, in less than one year, to go to the Capitol gallery and view the coats of the lawmakers. “CTA,” side by side with “AT&T.” “AFSCME,” right next to “PG&E.” The crony convention. The California circus. Cox’s initiative will make it plain to see.
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