San Diego’s civic leaders have sidestepped the question of whether public funding for a new football stadium is a good idea. They’ve ignored it because it doesn’t fit their agenda, which is believed to be that of their handlers: the local businessmen who need public money for private gain.

Instead, our leaders have focused the stadium debate – and your attention – on where the money will come from and how much is needed. Even though, as dozens of polls have shown, the majority of San Diegans don’t want their “government contributing taxpayer funds to help build a new stadium.” The latest 10News/Union-Tribune poll puts the figure at 65 percent.

Officials’ arrogance in dismissing the electorate is stunning but not surprising. They seem to believe they’re immunized from consequences by promising San Diegans a chance to vote on a funding plan. (We’ll see. No real date is set, no measure written and one Council member is already saying a vote is a waste of money.)

Their narrative, dutifully promoted by the mainstream media, presents them as “heroes,” waging a war on your behalf against an intransigent and sneaky team owner and the complex world of real estate, government and financial regulation, which, if won, will reveal them as knights in shining armor defeating the forces of evil trying to take away your civic pride. What a bunch of bull.

If spreading their narrative isn’t enough, the mainstream media is also ignoring the bigger issue, focusing instead on gaps and inconsistencies in funding proposals, or cheerleading, if they need football teams to fill their sports reports and football advertisers to fill their bank accounts.

So what can the majority do? Well, you say, “Vote ‘no’ when the plan comes to ballot.” And if it does, you can. But there is another, faster way for the people to enter the debate and influence the outcome. It’s with an advertising campaign.

Here’s how it can work.

First, advertising gives the majority a voice in a debate where their voice doesn’t exist. By inserting their point of view into the discussion, the people are demanding attention and a reaction from the politicians and press now ignoring them.

Second, it’s easy to create the right campaign. You do it by making commercials that reflect what most people are already thinking. You portray the suspicion and distrust that exists toward our civic leaders. A campaign like this will turn the debate on its head and remind voters why they should vote “no.” There are people in San Diego with the talent to create such things.

Third, the money for the campaign will have to come from residents because only we have an interest in stopping public funding. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce and The Lincoln Club, who typically fund political advertising, don’t. In fact, if the campaign works, they’ll fight it.

Luckily, social media, crowdsourcing, changes due to Citizens United, and outrage over insiders keeping the people’s desires at arm’s length could enable fundraising for the campaign. Perhaps 50,000 San Diegans donating $20 each would be enough to fund it.

But funding must start with seed money from a few big donors willing to finance the launch. After that, it’s contingent on the persuasiveness of the campaign itself to draw donations.

San Diego hasn’t seen anything like this, although it’s analogous in form to recent fundraising efforts to save the Opera. If the campaign works, the people get a voice and breathe life into our city’s lopsided democracy. If not, they don’t.

Bob Stein is a retired advertising executive who teaches rhetoric at San Diego State University. Stein’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.


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