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Responding to George

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Supposedly, Mark Twain warned, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Well, perhaps its time to challenge that idea in the digital age especially when you have your own blog. I take issue with George Skelton’s piece in today’s Los Angeles Times.

George implies that our PAC should not have accepted a multi-million dollar donation because we didn’t know who funded the organization that made the donation. The law requires us to report the donation, which we did. The law requires that we inform the donor that it has an obligation to report its donation. Not only did we do that, we gave the donor a more complete set of information on reporting obligations than suggested by the Fair Political Practices Commission’s manual and directed them to the FPPC if they had more questions. I’m told George was informed of that but it didn’t make his story.

If a campaign donation comes through the door that lawyers tell us is legal after doing due diligence on the donor, why not accept it? Especially, when the opposition on the Yes on Prop 30 and the No on Prop 32 side have amassed $100-million, more than twice the money raised on the other side of these issues, and I suspect more than ever has been raised in California ballot measure history.

You don’t hear too much about that huge pile of dollars and how it is raised. The unions with guaranteed fundraising through automatic payroll deductions; the governor by what one radio talk show host described as a shakedown. Let’s be more generous and say he used the power of his position to get business support … or else.

Another point. George refuses to equate the out-of-state Lance Armstrong Foundation million dollar plus donation to the Yes on Prop 29 campaign in June’s primary with the donation from the Arizona group because people know who Lance Armstrong is. Sorry, George, but to use your words, that doesn’t wash. No one knows the donors to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. If you are upset with one donation then you have to be upset with the similar circumstances of the Armstrong donation. The reason Common Cause chose to protest one donation but not the other was purely political.

It used to be ideas were central to policy debates. Now it’s about the donors so that you have a shorthand way to decide about measures – do you like the supporters or opponents of a measure, the donors on one side or the other? That is a shortcut, which serves to shrink policy discussion and, perhaps, is one reason we are now suffering a dysfunctional government. As a reminder, our country was created after serious debates spurred by anonymous sources in the Federalist Papers.

Be that as it may, the press and the governor insist on talking about donors and take the focus off the merits of the proposal. Maybe supporters think they can win an election by bashing the opposition. Or maybe, because of the proposal’s weaknesses, the supporters want to deflect attention from it.

Seems the public is catching on. Despite the governor’s “bully” pulpit and spending more than three times what opponents are spending on Prop 30, the measure has slipped under 50% in the new PPIC and USC/LA Times polls.

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