$4 Million Per Representative: CA Politics By The Numbers

$4 Million Per Representative: CA Politics By The Numbers

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How much does it cost for plutocrats and special interests to purchase the legislation they want in the state of California?

by Hunter Hastings

How much does it cost for plutocrats and special interests to purchase the legislation they want in the state of California? It’s hard to be definitive, because there are so many ways in which the corrupting cascades of money flow through the electoral and legislative system. But we can say this: it’s so expensive that ONLY the plutocrats and well-funded special interests can afford it. Certainly voters are excluded from the system. Martin Gilens and Benjamin J. Page of Princeton University, in their analysis of American democracy, conclude that “the preferences of the average American appear to have a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy”. Economic elites and business oriented interest groups or industries have all the influence.

NL_Princeton_Quote.pngNL_Princeton_Quote.pngWe can see the process at work in California. We can examine the receipts for the spending that buys legislation. There are two stages. First, buy the election of your favored candidate. Second, spend even more money on lobbying to make sure your bought-and-paid-for winner gets the details right in finalizing the desired laws and regulations. (And, just to be sure, have your own staff write the laws). 

A couple of recent analyses by independent observers highlight the spending of the economic and business elites in California statewide elections and statehouse lobbying. KQED, in early 2015, reported spending of $226.5 million on statewide candidate races and ballot measures in the 2014 election cycle. Then, the Sacramento Bee reported $65.8 million in lobbying at the state level in the first quarter of 2015. That’s an annual rate of $263 million. Combine the election spending number and the lobbying annual rate number, and you get roughly $490 million to purchase legislators and legislation. There are 120 elected legislators in California (40 State Senators and 80 State Assembly Members), so that’s roughly $4 million per elected legislator in election and lobbying expenses on an annual basis. 

The Sac Bee published data identifying the top lobbying spenders are. They include California Hospitals Association (in pursuit of legislation to protect their profits), California Teachers Association (in pursuit of legislation to protect their pensions), AT&T Inc and its affiliates (in pursuit of legislation to protect its crony capitalist regulatory umbrella), Sempra Energy (in pursuit of legislation to protect its revenues and profit), and Chevron Corporation (in pursuit of legislation to protect its energy franchise).  

The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act, in addition to creating a legislature that’s responsive to voters who know, and deal directly with, their representatives, will render all this electoral and lobbying spending redundant. Not only would there be too many legislators to monetarily influence, but elections would not need to be nearly as expensive due to the smaller size of constituencies. Representatives will be able to focus on listening to their neighbors and not the lobbyists. California will get the legislation the people want, not what the special interests buy.

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