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Lynne Plambeck: We need openness in campaigns

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: January 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
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Can you imagine a political ad promoting a candidate or campaign issue that includes “Paid for by Lennar Corp.,” or an ad touting the benefits of a candidate who supports a controversial office expansion project that ends by stating “Paid for by G & L Realty Corp”?

According to the California Clean Money website (www.CAclean.org), that is exactly what passage of the California Disclose Act of 2012, AB 1148, will do. It lets voters know who is really paying for political ads on the ads themselves. The legislation will simply require the three largest funders of more than $10,000 be disclosed on political ads, including TV, radio, print, mass mailings and website ads.

During the last election, $235 million was spent on ballot measures alone, mostly by corporations hiding behind misleading committees, such as Stop Hidden Taxes and California Jobs Initiative, two political action committees financed by oil companies. Proposition 26 passed after $18 million in ads stopped the state and cities from raising fees on polluters without a 2/3 vote. The three largest funders: Chevron, the American Beverage Association and Philip Morris.

Santa Clarita has its own experience with PACs financing local campaigns, such as the Citizen’s for Integrity that received $30,000 from G & L Realty Corp. One of its original founders, Ed Colley, is now running for City Council. The money supported Laurie Ender, another candidate in this April’s City Council election.

A poll conducted in October 2011 by California Field Poll showed a broad spectrum of bipartisan voter support — 84 percent of voters favor the legislation, including 78 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of independents. The League of Women Voters, Cal Alliance of Retired Americans, Common Cause, Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League are among the more than 200 groups from various viewpoints that have endorsed the legislation.

One of those endorsers, the Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, executive director of California Church IMPACT, representing 1.5 million people of faith in California, said about his group’s support, “The overwhelming power of money to mislead voters is a profound moral issue.”

Even in the unpopular Supreme Court case, Citizens United, which enforced the concept of corporate personhood, eight of nine justices said that disclosure is necessary to hold elected officials accountable.

Democracy requires informed voters in order to function properly. But sometimes, as much as we all try to be informed, the number of local, regional and state elections, plus complicated initiatives, is, frankly, overwhelming.

Some voters respond to this problem by reading voting records compiled by organizations, such as the Sierra Club and The League of Conservation Voters. Others respond by not voting or by relying on information from political mailings.

Information on who is funding the candidates (at least the name of the political action committees) is difficult to find and often, particularly in Santa Clarita, is not available until well after the election, in spite of laws requiring otherwise.

The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment has long supported proposals for campaign contribution and disclosure reform. (Remember our float in the 2006 Fourth of July parade with the cigar-puffing “fat cat” taking campaign money to cover up pollution?)

In the last City Council race, Ender received substantial funding from a PAC as she supported G & L Realty Corp.’s controversial office expansion in a low-density residential neighborhood. Candidates supporting the viewpoint of residents could not compete against such massive ad funding.

Other candidates received substantial funding from developers, garbage companies and auto dealerships, all of whom had contracts, permits or advertising issues coming before the council in the coming years.

As we approach another City Council election in April, this legislation becomes all the more important, not only to fair elections statewide, but to our local City Council race, in order to ensure good decisions for residents and taxpayers.

As the campaigns kick off with forums and ads, we urge all City Council candidates to endorse this legislation and make its support part of their election campaigns.

Many local residents will be visiting and calling our local legislator, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, to urge him to vote for this important issue. You can participate in this action by contacting his local office and urging his support for the California Disclose Act.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, and a board member for the Newhall County Water District.

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