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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Frightened Federal Officeholders Fight to Defend the California Gerrymander

As Erica Werner of the Associated Press reports in the Sacramento Bee, two California Congressmen - Representatives John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) and Howard Berman (D-Hollywood) - have asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) for an advisory opinion on opening up a campaign account to advocate against California's Prop 77, an initiative which would take the job of drawing legislative and congressional districts away from politicians and turn it over to a panel of retired judges.

The catch? Doolittle and Berman want to raise unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and the rich, actions prohibited by federal law.

Let's set aside for a moment the fact that Doolittle and Berman are doing little more than protecting a gerrymander which resulted in ZERO turnover between parties in California's 2004 elections. The FEC has already addressed this issue, in an advisory letter to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, who wanted to play an influential role on a ballot committee in Arizona that planned to raise money in unlimited chunks. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and the FEC's letter, federal candidates are limited to receiving $5,000 contributions, even when it comes to state campaigns.

So the law is clear. On the policy side of things, Berman's spokesperson whines that the system is unfair, that his guy should be able to raise huge unlimited sums of cash just like Governor Schwarzenegger.

Note to Berman's spokesperson: the problem with politics is not that rich folks just aren't getting their rightful say when it comes to public policy. The problem is that wealthy interests dominate the political process with campaign contributions, while the rest of us suffer the atrophied voice of those who can't afford to compete. His boss recognized that when he voted against an amendment to the BCRA raising the federal limits to $2,000 and for the BCRA itself.

A better approach then unleashing a Pandora's box of unlimited spending is that adopted by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which passed a regulation for state candidates similar to the BCRA restriction on candidates raising funds for ballot committees, but was struck down by a county judge in Sacramento this spring. The California Legislature has since considered legislation (AB709) that would also apply limits to candidate-controlled ballot committees, although that legislation is now stalled.

In other words, the answer lies not in the stars and their Hollywood cash, but in ourselves, the people of California, each and every one of whom deserves the same voice in the political process as the richest mogul in Tinseltown. Solutions are available that would at least move us towards that goal. Now we just need some leaders willing to fight for them.

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