A really good indication of how that money issue can influence an election was with the rhubarb over Measure V in 2007. Those opposed to the passing of this ordinance, while claiming they were doing it in order to save the trees and the mountains and the little baby birds, found themselves rather embarrassingly exposed when it turned out that $10s of thousands of dollars were pouring into their coffers from various concerned statewide building and real estate lobbies. And in a lot of ways the "No on V" campaign became known more by that money than anything else. Their hoped for message, meager as it was, became quite lost despite the blizzard of mail they were sending out.
However, under the new political order created by the United States Supreme Court's recent ruling that corporations and their ilk can no longer be limited in the amount of dough they can contribute to any campaign or cause, such things might not be so readily apparent anymore. And were the Measure V election taking place now we might never have found out exactly where all that money from the big boys was coming from.
There is a great article about this topic on a site called TPM Muckraker, which has just been added to our "Sites of Interest" list. And what they discuss is how lobbies in Washington - and presumably Sacramento as well - are now advising their clients on the possibilities for making practically anonymous donations to their most favored candidates. (In the spirit of fairness here, the Chamber of Commerce they're discussing here is the national one, and not our local folks.) Check it out:
Lobby Firm Tells Clients How To Sway Elections While Avoiding 'Public Scrutiny' - In the wake of last month's Citizens United ruling, a powerhouse Washington lobbying firm is informing its corporate clients on how they can use middlemen like the Chamber of Commerce to pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns, while maintaining "sufficient cover" to avoid "public scrutiny" and negative media coverage.
A "Public Policy and Law Alert" on the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling, prepared by two lawyers for K&L Gates and posted on the firm's site last Friday, notes that, thanks to disclosure rules, corporations could alienate their customers by spending on political campaigns -- especially because they could become the target of negative media coverage.
Being responsible for funding campaign efforts that at least some of the public is not exactly in love with can be a marketing dilemma. I mean, how would you reconcile your expensively created image of being, let's say, "the company that cares about the environment," with the shoveling of large amounts of campaign cash to a candidate who advocates mountaintop mining in Yosemite National Park for its uranium deposits? That would be a clash of images no company would willingly want to take on. And could cause certain folks to take their business elsewhere. TPM continues:
So, what's a corporation looking to advance its political goals to do? According to the alert, written by K&L lawyers Tim Peckinpaugh and Stephen Roberts:
"Groups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny."
So there you go. I suspect this could lead to the flowering of many new and wonderful sounding organizations all over America. The Coalition for Natural Splendor, which, of course, would funnel oil and power producer money to candidates that ain't exactly in love with trees. Or the Our Town Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to empowering the political needs of wrecking ball developers looking for new places to build large housing tracts that look just like the ones they're building everywhere else. How about Citizens United for Clean Energy? A group quietly supported by coal burning electricity giants wanting to fund candidates that won't say a peep about their unpopular polluting habits?
The possibilities are now endless.