There exists no greater challenge to the quality of our political behavior than the role of money in election campaigns. Unfortunately, campaign contributions often are necesssary to gain access to a legislator. And most often, he or she who collects the most money for a campaign wins election. As a corollary to that fact of life, we find many examples of specific legislative votes bearing the effects of financial contributions.
All of the aforementioned activities do not necessarily take place in Washington, DC or Sacramento, California. Last year, the two major candidates for State Senate from our local district spent $2.1 million in the campaign. The sum is almost unheard of in this area. How does the successful legislator say thank you?
The Oaks Project, a citizen participation arm of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights led by Harvey Rosenfield, a longtime consumer advocate, has qualified a ballot measure for voter decision in 5 separate cities of varying sizes. Claremont is one of the cities. Measure A, short for the City of Claremont Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000, will appear on Tuesday’s local ballot.
Essentially, the measure sets up strict prohibitions on elected or city officials receiving or accepting a gift, honorarium, employment offer or campaign contribution if the city official had previously approved a contract or lease or other monetary transactions.
The measure was placed on the ballot through the efforts of a number of local volunteers who gathered the impressive total of about 4400 signatures. Their intent was to put the measure on the November ballot when more people would be voting than in March but the city council, unhappy with the plan, delayed matters in order to miss the earlier date.
Overall, the Oaks Project strategy is to demonstrate that residents in cities of varying sizes would support tough statewide laws on conflicts of financial interest in addition to those already on the books.
Although the measure passed in San Francisco with a majority of 80 percent, not everyone locally agrees. There has been criticism the measure is convoluted, unfair and unworkable. Some Claremonters have called the proposal unconstitutional although the wearing of black robes is best left to judges. Another argument is that Claremont possesses no corruption (the same argument is being used in Pasadena only with the names changed) but no one can predict the future.
Supporters point out that any public official confronted by the prohibitions could simply recuse himself or herself from voting without incurring penalties.
Time and use may prove that Measure A is not perfect. But we are confronted with a continuous and deplorable attack on democratic government through the infusion of ever-increasing contributions of money to influence votes. Measure A is pointed in the right direction. It should be adopted. Vote yes on Tuesday.