The Neighborhood Legislature Solution

The Neighborhood Legislature Solution

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The only solution to money in politics is the Neighborhood Legislature solution.

The only solution to money in politics is the Neighborhood Legislature solution.

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Almost everyone who takes an interest in the future of the state of California or of the USA expresses a concern about the role of money in politics. The Center For American Progress demonstrates here how campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures lead to specific legislation that hampers the economy or favors (like lowered corporate tax bills) that discriminate in favor of interest groups and big business, and against the individual citizen. The California League of Women Voters focuses on Money in Politics as a major issue area, and highlights stories about “Dark Money” as well as encouraging more transparent monitoring. California Watch is another organization focused on investigative reporting about money in politics.

Money in politics is, indeed, a big problem for democracy, voters and individual citizens. As the Center for American Progress report indicates, heavily funded special interests – including Big Business, Big Labor, Big Green, and Big Parties – can buy the legislation, regulation and favored status they seek with campaign contributions and lobbying. The rest of us can’t.

But none of the campaigners who wish and hope to remove the influence of money from politics have any kind of a realistic solution. Hope is not a strategy. The Citizens United verdict in the Supreme Court means that there is no legal solution immediately available. The partisan nature of party politics means that they won't be able to agree on any kind of a political solution.

The only solution with any realistic chance of success is the Neighborhood Legislature – a structural solution. What do we mean by that?

  • The structure of the legislature in California creates heavy election campaign expenditures. In a state of almost 40 million people, the legislature structure is 40 state senators and 80 state assemblymen. Therefore each senate district represents about 1 million people and each Assembly district represents about half a million people.
  • These electoral districts are so big that the 2 parties feel that they must fight to the death to win. In this day and age that means advertising money – TV, radio, billboards, print and internet – and the hiring of armies of consultants, marketing and communications specialists and paid administrators and canvassers.
  • All those things cost money, and few candidates for state senate and state assembly have, or wish to spend, enough of their own money to ensure their election.
  • Therefore they turn to organizations that do have money to spend: the well-funded special interest groups of Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Green. Why do these groups spend money electing state legislators? To make sure they get the legislation they want in return. Big Business wants tax concessions and regulations that favor and protect their profits; Big Labor wants protection of public employee pensions and perks, and the support of their favorite uneconomic preferences like minimum wage laws; Big Green wants regulations that penalize consumers for using California’s teeming and plentiful oil, coal and gas reserves. They all want something. And they pay to get it by funding the election campaigns of senators and assemblymen. The legislators know this, and play the game accordingly, since all they care about is winning.
  • In the Neighborhood Legislature, the districts are tiny – no more than 10,000 people (sate assembly) and 5,000 people (state senate) per district. It’s not possible to buy mass advertising for a candidate’s campaign in such a tiny district. Even if it were, it would be uneconomic. And it would be looked upon with suspicion – who would spend so much to buy one of 12,000 legislative seats?
  • Therefore, the tiny districts become of no interest to the Big Business, Big Labor and Big Green brigades. They’ll shift their focus to other activities. So will the two big parties – they’re built for scale, not for localness.
  • As a result, the candidates for local elections in tiny districts will be local people who are genuinely concerned about local issues, and will listen to their neighbors to make sure they understand those concerns precisely. Then, in concert with the other local candidates throughout the state, they’ll develop the right level of agreement on governance and regulation, all with a view to doing what’s right for local people and local issues. And they’ll do it without reference to the big money of the big special interest spenders.

California will have government that is good for people, not for special interests. The only way to get to this solution is to pass the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act.

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