Tuesday, July 20, 2004
As Charles Beggs of KATU News reports, the initiative process in Oregon is being swamped with big money. One of the initiatives, to ban SAIF, the state-owned worker's compensation insurer, saw $1.6 million poured into the effort, almost all of it by guess who? - - SAIF's principal competitor, Liberty Northwest.
When set up correctly, the initiative process can afford citizens the greatest amount of liberty and responsibility for the laws under which they live. Neither elected representatives, nor special interests, nor lobbyists stand in the way of the public deciding the merits of a given law. This encourages people to learn more about the issues confronting their society and to engage in the process of finding the best solutions - a great thing for democracy.
Unfortunately, many states have an initiative process which allows the unlimited spending of money by supporters or opponents of a proposed law. This allows wealthy interests to dominate the discourse through large-scale ad and publicity campaigns. This distorts the process by which people receive information about an issue, and in doing so, diminishes the pro-democracy benefits that the initiative process can offer. Public financing of initiatives would go a great way towards restoring those benefits.
Big money spends money to make money. Liberty Mutual did not spend over a million dollars because they think abolishing their competition would be in the best interests of Oregonians -- they think it would be in their own interest.
Some think-tank eggheads may try to sell you on the idea that unlimited spending is a question of freedom. Well, there are a few other freedoms at play they don't like to talk about -- the freedom to decide the laws that govern us, the freedom to be heard in the halls of government, the freedom to have equal voice in the public discourse. Free speech means free speech for everybody, not just for those that can afford it. To allow the rich and powerful to dominate any political discussion is to harm that freedom. We, as Americans, should not let that happen.