Lynne Plambeck: Legalized bribery?

Opinion - santa clarita news

Editor’s note: Updates amount of funds raised by Smyth camp in 9th paragraph.

Some have called our unlimited political campaign donations just a form of legalized bribery. That’s because, in part, one can pretty well tell what a candidate’s future votes will be by who gave him or her campaign donations.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision referred to as “Citizens United” – the ruling that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections – it has been hard to limit campaign contributions.

If money isn’t donated directly to a candidate, a PAC will often run an extravagantly funded background campaign where the sky is the limit.

Of course, I am not saying that there is a direct quid pro quo. This would be real bribery. Also, it would be difficult to prove.

But corporations and other businesses obviously give money to candidates in support of their positions.

At least in California, disclosure is required, both on the advertising itself and on the Secretary of State website.

This helps the educated voter who reads the small print and might be able to decipher the misleading names these PACs choose for themselves.

But even then, how many regular folks are able to trace who gave to the Republican or Democratic parties all that money to fund all those hit mailers that went out against candidates on both sides of the aisle?

But for the individual candidates it can be even more difficult. For instance, Cameron Symth received a large sum of money for his successful run for City Council in November (approximately $100,000), some of which seemed to come from a transfer from a 2016 Smyth for state Senate campaign account.

That transfer is perfectly legal under the current rules, but it obscures where the money came from originally and who might want to influence our new councilman.

When water district incumbents get large sums of money from landfill and development interests and their consultants, we can all pretty well tell where our water will be going.

Other candidates without such sums are usually unable to effectively get their message out and are often drowned in the noise of a flood of mailers and other ads.

And – surprise, surprise – they are usually the ones who might not always agree with the large corporate interests in town.

They say that democracy is a participatory sport and that the electorate must be literate and able to understand the issues. We all must participate and be vigilant to keep our democracy intact.

In Santa Clarita, the candidates gave it a yeoman’s try, attending numerous candidate forums. I would like to thank them all for their diligence. It must have been grueling.

Unfortunately, the forums were not that well attended by the public. Are we doing our part in Santa Clarita to make sure we listen and discuss the issues?

In an attempt to get more voters out for local elections, most were moved to even-year voting – 2016 instead of 2017. Is a consolidated ballot with 17 state propositions on it – not to mention federal, state and local elections – the best way to make sure we understand the position of our candidates for local office?

Or will the local offices now be drowned in the noise of moneyed interests and overwhelmed voters?

We need to get money out of politics so that we can get democracy back into it.

But we also need to find a way to not totally overwhelm people. This year’s experiment – local elections consolidated with state and federal – seemed to result in voter fatigue for the “down-ticket” local races.

In my opinion, this new schedule did not work. Local elections were drowned out by the glitzy top-of-the-ballot campaigns.

Our local government agencies are the closest to us and may have the biggest impact on our daily lives. They make sure our city is planned the way we want it to be, that we have good schools for our kids and clean drinking water.

I recommend a return or re-alignment of all local elections, including City Council, schools and water boards, to an off-year schedule with the focus on what is happening right here in our town.

Scheduling all local elections together on the off year should still enhance turnout while ensuring that voters have adequate time to thoughtfully consider what is at stake.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Newhall County Water District Board of Directors.

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