One of the things that is becoming clear as Gil and I debate — and I think it showed up in the Ethics Commission workshop — is the difference in how the professionals in the field see behavior and the way observers — even knowledgeable observers like Gil — see behavior.
For example, Gil says that contribution limits have defused the influence of wealthy individuals:
But, influence has been defused. Say what you will, the fact is a wealthy individual has to get a lot of her friends to contribute money under a contribution limit system thereby limiting one’s ability to affect politics by herself.
The reality is, it is the exact opposite. More influence is gained by raising money than simply writing a check. Anybody can write a check. Not everybody can get a roomful of people together to donate money for a candidate. That takes real influence.
But the whole issue really boils down to a drive toward public financing. Gil said:
Personally, I think updating the contribution limits and disclosure requirements only solves part of the problem — that candidates are spending too much time fundraising and as such rely more on parties and independent expenditures. Complete reform has to include a voluntary and competitive public finance system that will give candidates and the people the choice between privately funded candidates and publicly funded candidates.
I am against public financing because I simply do not want my tax money supporting candidates with whom I disagree.
More importantly, I think the whole premise is fatally flawed. Reformers (yeah, it is such a nice word) keep trying to make people not act like people. The fact is, as long as government takes actions to make people do things and regulate people — people are going to try to control government. It’s called Democracy. There is no system devised by the mind of man that a sharp 19-year-old cannot figure a way around. I remember in 1974 when Prop 9 — the Political Reform Act — passed with the promise to clean up government. Jerry Brown, then secretary of state, said this would limit lobbyists to no more than a “hamburger and a coke” in terms of what they could buy legislators. Anyone think government is pure and clean since the passage of Prop 9? I didn’t think so.
Keep the system simple. Let people contribute what they want to whomever they want. Disclose everything and let people decide.