Wednesday, February 01, 2006

CA Gov. Candidates Amass Warchests, Stay Mum on Campaign Reform

As Bob Salladay and Dan Morain report in the Los Angeles Times, the campaign of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is starting off 2006 $410,000 in the hole. Democratic candidates Steve Westly and Phil Angelides start the year with $24 million and $17 million in their respective campaign accounts.

No need to shed any tears for Arnold, who despite fierce oppositions from conservative grassroots organizations to the Governor's recent move towards the middle, faces no opponent in the primary. Angelides and Westly have significantly lower recognition than Arnold and have to compete against each other, which will likely eat up nearly all their current financial advantage.

Regardless of who wins the 2006 Cali gubernatorial race, it will be done on the backs of big money. While Californians may be stuck with that this year, we need not face the same situation in 2010. Several popular campaign reforms are available that would allow regular Californians to wrest control of government and politics out of the hands of the moneyed interests.

A bill (AB 583) adopting one such reform, publicly financed elections for qualifying candidates, recently passed the Assembly and now awaits the Senate. Even though several members of the Assembly who voted for the bill said they did so mostly to keep it alive for discussion in conference committee, that didn't stop the powers that be in the Assembly from stripping the bill's lower contribution limits for privately financed candidates in committee.

If for some reason the politicians elected with big money choose not to pass a bill which would help reduce the influence of big money, there is an alternative in the wings. The California Nurses Association, the same group that gave Arnold hell all last year at his fundraisers, has filed an initiative that would:

-create a clean money program similar to AB 583,
-lower contributions limits for privately financed candidates,
-ban corporate contributions to candidates, and
-ban corporate contributions to ballot initiative committees.

None of the candidates for governor - not Angelides, not Westly, not Schwarzenegger - have indicated whether they support AB 583. Except from Schwarzenegger's endorsement of a ban on contributions during the budget session, none of the candidates has made any proposal for addressing the problem of big money in California elections.

When we hear the candidates pretending to the throne of reform in the next ten months, their silence on the pressing issue of money in politics should be remembered.

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ENRON TRIAL - DAY 1 of Testimony

As the Houston Chronicle reports, the former head of investor relations for Enron, Mark Koenig, took the stand today. Koenig testified that the company purposefully overstated earnings in both the 4th quarter of 1999 and the second quarter of 2000, each time to surpass analysts' expectations and boost Enron's stock price.

Koenig is expected to be on the stand for a few days. As head of investor relations, Koenig monitored the crucial relationship between Enron and Wall Street and to some extent, between Enron and the business press. Koenig's successful ongoing efforts helped ease any possible concerns on Wall Street about Enron's financial and accounting practices.

While Koenig managed Wall Street, Lay managed the government side of things, spreading millions of Enron dollars around to state and federal politicians in campaign contributions, co-opting our representatives into silence or active participation in Enron's global schemes.

With Wall Street and government asleep at the wheel, the company was able to cook its books unto its bankrupt death.

The Chronicle is also blogging the trail. You can check that out here, which has details on Judge Sim Lake dismissing jurors early for the day after hours of somewhat complex financial testimony.

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