Political campaigns are rarely an appealing process. This lack of public appeal stands in sharp contrast to the importance the results have in the lives of the public.
The lack of public interest in campaigns is a reflection of their often unpleasant nature and the belief of many that the system is so corrupt that their vote matters little.
Two recent trends in campaigns that reinforce these concerns and create serious cause for alarm are the anointing by elected legislators of candidates and the financing by challengers of their own campaigns.
Medieval society operated under feudalism. The countryside was carved up by various feudal lords who dictated policies for peasants within their domain. The lords also acted in concert with other lords to choose and dispose of other lords. The conduct of many officeholders in Orange County resembles that of feudal lords: seeking to control their own and the fiefdoms of others.
It was not that long ago when it was unheard of for an officeholder to publicly endorse candidates in a primary election. Now not only are officeholders such as Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange), state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange), state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove), Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove) and Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) endorsing primary candidates, they are providing large contributions and helping to raise funds. They are using their influence to select the party nominees in districts in which they are not running for office.
The biggest political brouhaha of the year was the unseemly public squabble between Lord Ferguson and Lords Hurtt and Lewis over who would be the next lord of the 70th Assembly District. Ferguson felt that it was his prerogative to anoint Thomas Reinecke as his replacement lord for his fiefdom. A very reasonable position, if you are a lord and not a public servant. Hurtt, not to be outdone, has contributed $115,000 to his squire, Barry Hammond.
The political arrogance exhibited by these modern "lords" is astonishing. Worse, their efforts to anoint are not based on some ideological or political vision for the betterment of the residents of their respective domains.
On the contrary, this battle is solely about increased political clout for the various lords of Orange. These lords, not unlike the medieval lords, support candidates in order to create loyalty and fealty to the lord over party and peasants. Thus, citizens will find candidates even less accountable to them once elected. Is that even possible?
The second trend that is corrupting the system is the financing of campaigns by candidates. It could be said about elections that "She with the most money wins," because 94% of the legislative candidates who spent the most money won in November, 1992.
To increase chances of winning, candidates are lending, not contributing--a la (Ross) Perot and ( L.A. Mayor Richard) Riordan--substantial sums of money to their campaigns. The average debt of an entering assemblyman in 1992 was $58,400.
This trend is evident in many of the current local races. The queen of self-financing is Marilyn Brewer, a candidate in the 70th Assembly District. She loaned her campaign $180,000 from personal and business accounts.
A review of the campaign statement filed by Jim Morrissey, Republican candidate for the 69th Assembly District, disclosed that he has loaned his campaign $60,000.
It is far less pernicious and infinitely more honest for a candidate to give money to their campaign.
The problem is how the newly elected legislator pays him or herself back. They do it by raising money after the election by holding special-interest fund-raisers. The money raised at these events, usually held in Sacramento, is then paid back to the former candidate.
What makes the pay-back of the loans to the campaign so critical to the officeholder is that often, the money loaned to the campaign is obtained by the then-candidate mortgaging the family home. Who do you think will receive a more welcome reception from the new assemblyman--a special-interest group who just contributed $5,000 that went directly into the politician's pocket or Bob Voter?
To some measure there has always been and will always be politics as usual. However, by any measure special interests have contributed increasingly large amounts of money to candidates over the past 10 years.
The trends of elected legislators strongly influencing primary elections and candidates financing their own campaigns with personal debt materially reduce the opportunity for effective government.
Elections and legislation are being hijacked by the few to the detriment of the many, which leads to a society of political haves and have-nots.