In an appearance on Larry King Live in 2000, political satirist Bill Maher proposed that elected politicians wear coats bearing the logos of their top donors when they appear on the floors of the Senate or the House. Maher even brought an example, donning a coat covered with the logos of GM, Pepsi, Coors, etc. His point was that public officials should at least be as transparent as NASCAR drivers, whose racing uniforms loudly advertise the logos of their sponsors. By wearing similar jackets while conducting government business, politicians would not be able to conceal the special interests they are beholden to.
Though meant as joke, Maher’s suggestion probably resonated with a wide swath of the American public, regardless of political affiliation. Indeed, if Americans across the political spectrum can agree on anything, it’s that all of our politicians are “owned” to a certain degree by powerful special interests. On election day, the question for many voters comes down to which candidate is owned by special interests that are less harmful to the public good. Given the cynicism of our times, voters just want politicians to be honest about who owns them.
If Maher’s jacket idea made sense in 2000, then it really does in a post Citizens United America, where big money flows unchecked through our political system at unprecedented levels and Super Pacs allow powerful donors to conceal their campaign expenditures from the American public. Well, the folks behind a new California ballot measure seem to think that Maher’s original idea is exactly what the state needs to restore some semblance of transparency to its system.
According to an article that appeared today on occupydemocrats.com, San Diego entrepreneur John Cox has formed a campaign called “California is Not For Sale,” which will begin to collect signatures for this measure on January 1, 2016. On their website, Cox’s organization claims to be a “movement to take big money OUT of politics in California,” and they believe this initiative promises to “bring a transparency never before seen in politics.” In addition to collecting the necessary signatures for the measure to appear on the ballot, the campaign also plans to hold demonstrations across the state in which they present life-size cutouts of various state legislators “covered with the logos of their top donors.”
Although Maher’s original idea was meant as a joke, albeit one that aimed to make a serious point about our broken political system, Cox is quick to dispel any notion that his campaign has a similar comedic motive. In fact, Cox argues that the real joke is our system.
“This is a very serious initiative. This is not a joke,” Cox insists. “If you came down from Mars and looked at our electoral system, you’d say to yourself, `How dumb is this?’ You’ve got a system under which people who want something from government fund the campaign of the people who make the decisions. How stupid is that system?”
On his website, Cox aims for broad political appeal by alleging that Corporation and Unions are equally complicit in corrupting our system: “Unions and Corporations [sic] have too much power in our states and it’s time we stand up and fight.” Cox further explains that the money that secretly flows through super PACs “comes from wealthy companies and special interests that curry favor with elected officials. It is totally legal according to the laws on the books, but they are able to wield incredible power in our State.”
Of course, it is unclear what kind of real impact this measure would have on limiting that incredible power. But, if legislators have to show up to the state capitol everyday bearing the logo of Mansanto, Chase bank, the SEIU, or the teacher’s union, voters will at least know where that they stand, regardless of what they may try to tell voters. And if the thought of publicly wearing certain logos makes politicians queasy, they may think twice about taking money from certain donors.
Ideally, Cox’s larger goal of driving big money out of politics would be realized, and, should that happen, then perhaps California’s state capitol will become an establishment where no jacket is required. For the meantime, Cox believes that California’s legislators should have to wear their sponsors on their sleeves, literally, and it is likely that support for his measure will transcend partisan lines.