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October No-Surprise: Political Journalists Chase the Shiny Object

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Political journalists have been chasing a shiny object for the past two weeks, flashed and twinkled by Gov. Brown for his amusement and the reporters’ distraction.

The $11 million contribution to a committee* opposing Proposition 30 and supporting Proposition 32 was revealed Monday by the donor to have originated from two familiar organizations allied with Republicans and other pro-market interests. If anybody was honestly shocked by this development, he or she forgot to send out a press release.

The more distressing lesson is that this “secret” and “out-of-state” political donation relieved the media from the dreary task of filling in the news hole on the days between release of public opinion polls of the contests. The money chase could supplement the horse race.

But the loser – as usual – was sustained examination of the consequences of the passage or failure of these ballot measures. Would schools be the prime beneficiary of the new tax revenues, or would other public programs have a legitimate claim on the proceeds? How would schools accommodate to mid-year budget cuts? (EdSource looked at that issue while big media was following the FPPC Twitter feed.) What is the effect of locking in billions for local government realignment? How have public unions survived in other states where their access to member dues was constrained?

There is no shortage of informative and elevating journalism that could have been produced while the Attorney General was clamoring for “transparency.” (For the record, I think shrouding the contribution inside another committee was dumb, but was it truly the threat to democracy that elected officials and editorial boards claimed?)

But if budgets and politics make your eyelids heavy, and you really want a money-in-politics angle, here’s one that dwarfs the $11 million donation Americans for Responsible Leadership:

  • The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has donated $17.2 million in member dues to the yes-on-30/no-on-32 campaigns.
  • The California Teachers Association has donated more than $32.8 million collected from teachers’ paychecks to the yes-on-30/no-on-32 campaigns.

That’s $50 million in campaign money from just two government employee unions.

Somehow, this isn’t a scandal. But it’s still a story I’d like to read.

* The Small Business Action Committee, directed by the editor of Fox and Hounds Daily.

Follow Loren on Twitter: @KayeLoren

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