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Opinion

Patience wins political battles

Envision Spokane suffered its third electoral defeat, but campaign coordinator Kai Huschke said the Worker Bill of Rights will be back.

The push to diminish corporate influence has cropped up around the country in response to U.S. Supreme Court’s naive Citizens United decision. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the decision allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on elections, recently said events haven’t turned out the way he envisioned.

He figured in the age of the Internet, there would be instant reporting of who gave to whom and this transparency would throttle efforts to buy politicians. He was obviously unaware of the many loopholes in campaign finance laws that allow contributors to remain anonymous.

In a recent interview with the National Law Journal, Justice Kennedy said disclosure is “not working the way it should.”

Last month, the New York Times reported that “just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the (presidential) campaign.” That’s nearly half of the entire amount raised by Republicans and Democrats running for the White House.

Most of the families reside in exclusive enclaves on either coast and are walled off from the every day concerns of middle America. They may be the only citizens united by the Supreme Court ruling.

We could have instant disclosure of contributors if Congress would pass a law that closed the dark-money loopholes. Back when Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign contribution limits, critics said transparency, not regulation, was the answer to thwarting undue influence.

But when Citizens United struck down the limits as a free speech violation, the former fans of sunlight scurried to the dark side.

In 2003, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Money is essential in politics and not something that we should feel squeamish about, provided the donations are limited and disclosed, (and) everyone knows who’s supporting everyone else.”

Now, as Senate majority leader, he is the leading proponent of anonymous “free speech,” because his party is the biggest beneficiary.

So I understand the frustration of Envision Spokane, as it pondered the effects of big money interests. However, the group hasn’t been able to move the ball, because it shoots for touchdowns, instead of first downs, on every play.

Envision’s Hail Mary pass on paychecks would’ve produced the highest minimum wage in the country in a city of limited wealth. Tacoma activists sought a $15 per hour minimum, but voters instead supported a phased-in $12-an-hour minimum proposed by the city council.

Envision tried to eviscerate the influence of corporations by blocking their access to the courts and making it more difficult to fire workers. Meanwhile, Seattle activists persuaded voters to adopt “democracy vouchers,” which could dramatically – and legally – limit the influence of wealthy elites. The vouchers are a form of publicly financed elections paid for through a property tax increase.

Change doesn’t occur overnight. There are no quick-strike plays. Progress is achieved one first down at a time.

KUDOS TO CANDIDATES. Everyone who ran for office deserves a round of applause. We meet a lot of people during campaign season, and the sad fact is that most of them will not win.

It’s especially impressive to see people putting in the long hours when the general public is so apathetic. Ballots are still be counting, but looks like 60 percent of Spokane County voters skipped the election.

Statewide, two-thirds of voters couldn’t be bothered. Not exactly the kind of supermajority that’s healthy for democracy.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.


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