(the article is copied below due to access challenges; it is online here: http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Get-big-money-out-of-California-politics-12271190.php)
California has proudly declared itself the leader of the resistance, a progressive counter to the Trump administration’s continual assault on the rule of law and the most vulnerable among us.
However, for California to truly lead our nation forward, we need to create a real system of public financing for political campaigns in order to get big money, and the stink of potential corruption, out of our government.
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Disclose Act, a product of a multiyear, comprehensive effort to shine a light on dark money that has invaded our political system. I proudly endorsed the Disclose Act, but we must go further.
There is no doubt in my mind that our democracy is in trouble. Big money in politics adds to public cynicism and subtracts from our faith in our form of government.
In a democracy, the government is us. To lose faith in government means that we have lost faith in each other. This lack of faith rips apart the fabric of our civil society and allows the worst among us to rule.
Budgets are statements of values, and, in the words of the late Sen. and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, “the moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, (and) the needy.”
I am afraid that our democracy is under significant assault because we are failing this moral test, even here in California, where we have the highest number and percentage of poor children in the country.
People become cynical because the path to a brighter future is becoming more remote. Ninety percent of people born in the 1940s ended up doing better financially than their parents. But those born in the 1980s, the much-maligned Millennials, have only a 50-50 chance of doing better than their parents , despite being the best-educated generation in our history.
While I fully support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that lifted limits on corporate and union political spending, that battle will likely take many years. Californians cannot afford to wait.
In 2016, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $100 million to prevent voters from regulating the price of prescription drugs — and won.
The high cost of our elections means that people of modest means don’t consider running for office. It also means that politicians who do run find themselves on a never-ending path of fundraising instead of governing. Politicians should be meeting with their constituents, listening to their aspirations and concerns, and taking these ideas back to the Capitol to craft sound, progressive and beneficial policy.
Did you know that the maximum donation to a candidate for governor of California is $29,200, just for the primary election? One married couple can contribute more than $116,000 in the primary and general elections combined.
We have a moral imperative to get this kind of money out of politics and create a clean system of public financing for campaigns. This isn’t a partisan issue. The voters understand that something is rotten in politics, and sometimes that rottenness is enacted into law.
Californians can improve our system of government by passing state legislation modeled after the Fair Elections Now Act, which is pending federal legislation supported by Common Cause, Sen. Bernie Sanders and many others. A statewide campaign-finance law should set hard limits on large-dollar donors, offer public financing and establish requirements for candidate participation in debates. This would help reduce the cynicism and malaise affecting our youngest voters and encourage them to engage in the act of participatory democracy.
If Californians organize, we can get big money out of our political system and put direct democracy back into the hands of the people. As California goes, so goes the nation.
Delaine Eastin, the former California superintendent of public instruction, is a candidate for governor.
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