My progressive friends cheered as their resolutions to end fracking and condemn illegal drone attacks scored unanimous "aye's" from several thousand delegates at the annual CA Democratic Party (CDP) convention April 12 - 14. Fourteen non-binding statements of principle -- out of 80ish -- survived Resolutions Committee scrutiny and reached the convention floor.
And judging from the multi-media campaigns progressives mounted before and during the convention -- online petitions, slogan-touting buttons, flyers, supporters carrying hand-made signs -- state lawmakers enthusiastic about fracking and/or drones are unlikely to escape activists' ardent attention.
It's a good thing my buddies have mastered marketing. Because they're going to need to do it endlessly as long as the CDP, like the CRP (CA Republican Party) and the national Democratic and Republican parties, is addicted to big money.
I attended the convention and voted for the res's. I'm thrilled they passed.
My friends perceive a leftward party tilt. Not me.
Among the resolutions the Committee -- and thus the convention -- did not bless was a collaborative effort by the amazing Money Out Voters In coalition, Common Cause and me, that calls on Congress to help liberate our political system from the chokehold of mega-rich donors.
Specifically, it instructs Congress to get the states started on the process of overturning Citizens United vs. FCC, the 2010 Supreme Court decision which freed corporations to contribute unlimited sums during electoral campaigns, essentially enabling them to buy elections. California's legislature told Congress to do so last year.
The closest the party got is its two-year-old resolution "Countermanding Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission," whose strongest language, unfortunately, is its title. The text is full of nebulous fluff like "restore the power of Congress and state legislatures to safeguard democracy by placing appropriate limits on the ability of corporations..."
Not the poetry of "... top-notch... the Gettysburg Address of tightrope-walking, say-nothing bullshit." But the CDP isn't Veep.
Arianna Huffington inspired me at her Los Angeles Shadow Convention in 2000 -- held concurrently and just blocks from the Democratic convention that nominated Al Gore -- to get involved in campaign finance reform. I've volunteered for the California Clean Money Campaign (CCMC), whose goal is to eliminate huge private donations -- especially those that fund anonymous attack ads -- from politics, replaced by publicly financed elections.
Give everyone an equal chance and you'll find me planting herbs in my garden. But probably not for a while.
I've worked on many CCMC campaigns -- most were unsuccessful, with a few glorious exceptions. We're on our third try to pass a state law that forces everyone who buys political ads to reveal their true identities in the ads themselves -- the CA DISCLOSE Act, Senate Bill (SB) 52. (There's also a federal version.) Our second DISCLOSE effort died last summer after the state Assembly Appropriations Chair -- a Democrat -- held the bill captive in his committee.
This convention dangled hope. Nancy Pelosi received wild applause when she proclaimed that we must overturn Citizens United. She advocated for Clean Money elections and for the DISCLOSE Act. Party Chair John Burton bemoaned the vast sums the Koch Brothers plan to spend on California congressional races next year, saying that to the Kochs, millions of dollars is "chump change."
With a buildup like that, how could the Resolutions committee not send Citizens United to the full convention, where party leaders convey to 3000 or so attendees which issues are most important to our state? And where loads of media promote convention-approved resolutions immediately afterwards.
If an organization wants to minimize attention to an issue, they can postpone it until their Board meets. That way they take a righteous stand without pissing off major constituencies who might object.
Two years ago the party passed a resolution supporting the principle the Ca DISCLOSE Act embodies, which I had submitted on behalf of CCMC. It was intended for the convention, but not voted on till the much smaller Executive Board met.
After Pelosi and Burton spoke, several people told me the CDP staff wanted to wait on Citizens United. They had no specific explanation. I was mystified over the gulf between the speeches and the non-followup.
Unless I heard wrong. Instead of meaning money is bad, maybe the Chair meant give me your good money to fight their bad money. And/or maybe, like many successful people, Democratic party decision makers do not want to risk the level playing field truly clean elections would establish.
This cognitive dissonance made something snap inside me. I got sick of screaming into the void.
Campaign finance reform is the single most important issue of our time. Without it, every other concern is distorted by the power of big money.
The defeat of the background check bill in the Senate last week is the most recent disgraceful example. Ninety percent of the American people favor such basic legislation, including a majority of NRA members, and yet it failed after Senators -- including four Democrats -- were bullied by the NRA and the gun industry lobby.
It's heartbreakingly clear that the Democrats won't act courageously. But a number of non-partisan outside groups will. The MOVI coalition and Common Cause are sponsoring Prop C on the Los Angeles ballot next month, to let voters tell electeds to fight Citizens United. They need you.