Another View: Blackout periods won’t stop special interests

John Vigna
John Vigna

Opponents of the public financing of political campaigns, including Dan Schnur, are applauding the latest reform gimmick – temporary blackout periods during votes on the state budget or the last 30 days of a legislative session.

These temporary bans, they argue, send the message that lawmakers won’t trade votes for contributions during critical times (“Senate’s fundraising ban during budget talks is vital,” Forum, May 24).

But banning contributions during a handful of days each year is an implicit indictment that donations directly impact votes the rest of the year. If so, why not ban them altogether?

That’s exactly the position of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and most “good government” groups. They believe that to truly reform our system, special interests need to be eliminated entirely from the fundraising process.

Schnur doesn’t like the idea of taxpayer dollars going toward 30-second TV spots and direct-mail pieces. Yet someone is going to have to pay for those ads and campaign workers. So ultimately the question is: Do we want special interests to pay for them, or should these necessary campaign expenditures come from a fund free of special-interest influence?

The recent East Bay special election for state Senate, where Steve Glazer prevailed, may be a dangerous sign of things to come in California politics. Glazer proudly campaigned for a fundraising blackout, telling voters that he wouldn’t spend any of his campaign money on TV, radio or direct mail. Instead, with a wink and a nod, he left what was one of the dirtiest campaigns recently to be run by corporations and wealthy individuals, one of which contributed more than $2 million to elect him.

These independent expenditure campaigns are the latest evidence that special interests – blessed by the U.S. Supreme Court – will find ways to circumvent laws to limit their influence. They already tap dance around temporary fundraising bans, donating heavily before and after they expire.

It is easy to get resigned about the role of money in politics. But the solution is easy. Enact public financing, and give public servants the ability to craft laws without having to worry about where their campaign money comes from.

John Vigna is a former president of California Young Democrats and was press secretary for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.