While I’m still thinking over what happened last night, the thing that’s clearest to me is that the victories of state Issues 2 and 3 and Cuyahoga County Issue 6 are all about one thing: money. I don’t have exact figures in front of me right now, but the proponents so drastically out-raised the opposition that that it never had a fair hearing. (Certainly the fact that in many cases, the media amplified the lies being bought with this money didn’t help).
It points up that probably the biggest reform we need in this state on every level of government is campaign finance reform — for issues and candidates. I happened to be listening yesterday to the video of Mary Jane Trapp’s speech that she made back in September announcing that she would be running for the state Supreme Court next year, trying to break the all-Republican stranglehold on that body. She brought up the issue of the perception that our Supreme Court is therefore not balanced or fair. And that reminded me of the 2006 race when Bill O’Neill took on Terence O’Donnell. Bill, out of principle, refused to raise ANY money. His slogan was “No Money From No Body” (somewhat ungrammatical but catchy.) O’Donnell was the biggest fundraiser on the court. Shortly before the election, the New York Times did a front-page story in which it pegged O’Donnell as having a huge “perception of conflict” problem: He decided for his contributors more than 90% of the time. Sadly, his money overcame Bill’s principles on election day.
Many have suggested campaign finance reform should begin there: with our judges. Mary Jane told me, shortly after her announcement, that there are currently time-period limitations on when a challenger could start raising money, and when I asked her why, she said it’s an incumbent protection racket. This is a playing field that needs to be leveled NOW.
Currently, there’s a lot of frustration and rage around the way well-heeled lobbyists and big corporate donors controlling the discussion and the legislative process (See: health-care reform). If the Supreme Court of the U.S. overturns campaign-finance limitations that attempt to stem at least some of that money flow, the disaster-in-the-making is going to amp up the anger even more. So maybe this is the perfect time to start. I am generally opposed to amendments to our state constitution, but I will back a campaign to put reasonable campaign finance limitations into our constitution and attempt to limit how much of our democracy is for sale. We sold three big chunks of it away to special interests yesterday.