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November 13, 2007

Big Money an "Insurmountable Opposition" to Democracy in California

-- by Dave Johnson

I have a new post up at the Speak Out California weblog:

Why is it so hard to get things done for the people of California? The front page of Friday's San Jose Mercury News has a story that points out one of the problems: the "insurmountable" influence of big, moneyed interests.
From the story, Analysis: Tobacco tax could doom plan for health overhaul:

... A new cigarette tax would be tantamount to a declaration of war on Big Tobacco, which last year spent more than $65 million to defeat a $2.60-a-pack tax on the California ballot and just this week easily turned back an attempt in Oregon to raise tobacco taxes.

... Any attempt to overhaul health care is bound to invite opposition, given the huge financial stakes in the system. The tobacco tax idea is an example of the difficult balance that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats are struggling to strike at the negotiating table: achieving meaningful reform without triggering insurmountable opposition.

The challenge is amplified by the fact that any health care proposal is certain to end up on the ballot, where interest groups can spend tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat it.

This analysis is saying what we all know to be true: an industry group is able to mount "insurmountable opposition" to "meaningful reform" because they are able to use large amounts of money to influence the public's understanding of issues, and regular citizens just are not able to do the same.

For one thing, industry front-groups are able to pay people to gather signatures to get ballot initiatives qualified. Regular people ha ve to get up early on weekend to go to farmers' markets, stay up late to stand in front of theaters, and connect with similarly-motivated, like-minded people across the state to coordinate the effort. This is a very difficult thing to do. But with enough money, just outsource the effort to a signature-gathering firm. (And paying on a per-signature basis encourages fraud.)

After the initiative qualifies for the ballot the industry groups can afford to endlessly repeat advertisements that say whatever is needed -- true or false -- to sway public opinion. This takes really big money -- amounts that regular people have great difficulty raising. And making matters worse, more and more it seems that concentrated corporate ownership of media outlets causes only a corporate-favoring viewpoint to be presented to the public. So regular people can't count on the news media to fairly inform the public of both sides of an issue. (If you think the corporate side of the issue is not dominant, ask yourself when was the last time you heard about the benefits of union membership from a TV or radio broadcast or in a newspaper.)

Click to continue

Posted by Dave Johnson at November 13, 2007 1:50 PM

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