CA Proposition 45 & Democracy
The California Ballot Initiative system was established to be a voice of the people, an exercise in democracy. This process enables the voter to act when the legislature fails to act on behalf of the people. At that point the people can directly enact the laws and effect policies to benefit the populace. This system goes back to 1912, coming out of a progressive movement in California that was active and vocal at that time. Over the years this democratic process has been eroded by the force of money, by the influence of capital. This initiative system has been altered by legislation and by the courts to the point where it is subverted if not negated by the ability of vested interests to carry out well funded propaganda campaigns. These propaganda campaigns are not vetted by our media or by our government, leaving the electorate to be deluged by mendacity. California Proposition 45 (Prop 45), Healthcare Insurance Rate Changes Initiative Statute, is a prime example of such a subversion of the intended democratic process.
The Supreme Court decision Citizens United has seriously impacted the ability of our republic to cary out one of its few democratic processes, voting, in a meaningful manner. The electoral process will be so influenced by the money flooding in to the media that the voter may not see anything but a one sided presentation of the candidates and issues, debate being eliminated because there will be no chance for a balanced information stream. The Citizens United case, wrapped in the facade of free speech rights, is allowing the ownership class a nearly unfettered ability shape political debate and discourse. The only free speech right being fostered by SCOTUS is for corporations in there newly discovered personhood. The media which is so important in the dissemination of information to the public will be controlled by the very volume of political advertisement purchased by the wealthy and the well funded PACs. Burt Neuborne cynically paraphrasing Justice Scalia’s in the subsequent McCutcheon decision exposes Scalia’s true desire that those how have money have there right to purchase as much influence as possible. Cynically you could say that the business wing of SCOTU believe that ‘those who own the country have the right to run the country’. These recent decisions of the Supreme Court legislates from the bench by negating state and local laws that seek to control or at least expose the influence of money in elections. This leaves progressives and some Democrats in the desperate position of having to take on the daunting task of passing a constitutional amendment to take away the imbalance caused by money and corporate personhood. The political situation that exists is such that there will be little help from any of the state legislatures or Congress, the political bodies necessary to advance such an amendment.
According to the Voter’s Edge web site the proponents of Prop 45 spent $2.3 M in campaign contributions. In stark contrast opponents of the measure raised $43.4 M. That is an approximate ratio of 1 to 20. Without even looking at the merits of the arguments for or against the proposition the observation can be made that the free speech afforded the opponents has drowned out the voice of those supporting the measure. This type of funding allows the opponents to bombard the media, through radio and TV commercials, mailers, and print advertisements to drown out any message on the merits of the proposition. This force of money is not tempered by the way California regulates the campaigns involving the ballot initiative process. The limited debate that is carried on in the voter’s guides does not have a vetting process that measures or grades the truthfulness and accuracy of either sides claims.
In the case of Prop 45 the flood of money, that is a direct result of the SCOTUS decisions, has bought the media influence necessary to sway the voter. The overwhelming influence of a 20 to 1 ratio of money on the opposition side buys so much more air time, print advertisement, and telecommunication that this access crowds out any message the from the proponents. Even if the opponents message were determined to be truthful this level of media dominance precludes any debate and keeps the voter from a balanced consideration of the issues. In this atmosphere of unfettered media influence the Press (my caps) has reneged on its duties. We should expect the Press to be a truth seeking body that will at some level scrutinize the messages put out by the various campaigns. As a limited example of what could be done in regional races for elected offices KCRA, the Sacramento NBC affiliate, had political experts grade candidate’s TV messages, but the coverage was limited and could not cover all of the political ads in the short 2 to 5 minute news segments. But the Press, as it is instituted, has a disincentive to scrutinize the political media messages because a major source of revenue during the voting cycle comes from the those campaigns airing the political messages. What do you think would happen to a TV station that proposed that every political advertisement would be accompanies by 20 to 30 second spot that would either grade the message or actually vet the message for veracity.
The mind of the electorate is being conditioned to be swayed however the elite rich wish by the purchase of the mainstream media. The campaign against Prop 45 reveals that the electorate can be persuaded to vote against their own best interest. The defeat leaves the health insurance companies to charge premiums as the market will bear, with only an advisory board that can only state that the cost of the health care coverage is outside the bounds of reasonable cost. Would the electorate support a measure that would overturn the ability of the auto insurance commissioner to approve or reject the cost of premiums for a mandatory insurance for anyone who drives? One stunning poll just prior to the midterm election showed that 46% of the electorate did not know that Jerry Brown was running for government. The lack of interest in the election, with a voter turnout of 25%, reveals an electorate that is either apathetic, cynical of the political process, or just plain oblivious or ignorant. Just as the consumer will go out and try the latest laundry detergent or fast food meal because of its advertising appeal on TV, the same holds true with the populaces’ shallow comprehension of what is politically and economically in their interest, so they try the candidate with the most frequent and compelling campaign spots.
The conclusion of this essay presents no solution, prescribing a way out of the morass of capitalisms version of moneyed democracy. This is only to confirm the diagnosis that the instrument of capitalism, money, is contrary to even to the simplest element of a democratic governance, voting. With this most elemental component of democratic governance being so compromised by the force of money that it is reduces to a horse race spectacle or a mud slinging shouting match. There is no counter balance either by the government itself or the fourth estate. Each should be vetting our political domain to ensure there is some level of veracity or even civility in our political debates. Prop 45 serves as evidence that the pollution of money in the political process serves to attenuate and perhaps even silence the democratic voice of the people.