On Tuesday, I went to a state senate committee hearing to oppose AB 84, a bill sponsored by my representative in the California Assembly, Democrat Kevin Mullin. I wasn’t alone in opposition: over 100 other members of the public and “good government” and progressive organizations, plus activists from the California Democratic Party, were there, as well. We rallied on the lawn outside the Capitol and generally felt good about our chances of killing the bill.
Since others have meticulously broken this down, I won’t belabor all the reasons why this bill is awful, but it could accurately be named the “Legislative Leadership Power Grab and Incumbent Protection Act.” The most offensive part of AB 84 allows both majority and minority legislative leaders – for example, Anthony Rendon, Democrat and current majority leader of the Assembly – to collect and spend an unlimited amount of money to defeat challengers to either themselves, or incumbents loyal to them.
In other words, if you, an average working-class person, want to challenge an incumbent Democrat or Republican, good luck.
If AB 84 passes, wealthy people could each donate up to $36,500 to Rendon’s slush fund (the current cap is $4,400), which he could transfer directly to his favored candidate’s campaign. Beyond that, Rendon could raise an unlimited amount of money from corporate special interests – even fossil fuel and private prison interests, which grassroots California Democratic Party activists worked hard to ban from the Party’s coffers – to put into a super PAC and run an “independent” campaign to further crush a grassroots candidate’s chances.
So, in addition to having the power of incumbency, name recognition, existing campaign infrastructure, and the bully pulpit, legislative leaders want an unaccountable slush fund to fend off challengers to both themselves and those loyal to them. Does that sound like democracy to you?
At the hearing, Mullin argued this bill is about transparency, not about creating an unaccountable slush fund for legislative leaders to use as they see fit. Then representatives from the good government groups, plus the California Democratic Party, had speakers explain, in detail, that this bill creates an unaccountable slush fund for legislative leaders to use as they see fit. Then the rest of us – around 100 ordinary schmucks who still believe we live in a democracy where our voices matter – lined up and had a brief chance to voice our opposition: “Chet Lexvold, San Mateo, Co-Chair of the Peninsula Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. We strongly oppose this bill, and ask that you vote no on AB 84. Thank you.” One after another, we went to the mic:
“Havsum Intigriti, Fresno, I oppose this bill.”
“Barry Upstanding, Los Angeles, I oppose this bill.”
“Amelia Antekrupchen, Santa Barbara, I oppose this bill.”
“Weneid Kleenmouni from Sunnyvale, I oppose this bill.”
And on and on and on we went.
Then it was the committee’s turn. Or rather, it was Democratic Senator Bob Hertzberg’s turn. His ensuing 15-minute filibuster was equal parts infuriating and amazing, filled with red herrings, tangential personal stories, and absurd quips about how this bill wouldn’t be corrupting because money doesn’t grow on trees. Interspersed throughout his dog-and-pony show were audible groans from the crowd, which we were admonished for, and “I’m just asking questions here” mugging from Hertzberg. Somewhere in his histrionics, though, he revealed his true colors. Hertzberg’s position was that since legislative leaders were democratically elected by the people in their districts, they should have the power to change campaign finance rules to further entrench their power and the power of those loyal to them (I’ll admit those were not his exact words). The optimistic energy in the room quickly dissipated. The bill advanced, 3-2, with Hertzberg, another Democrat, and one Republican voting in favor. Two Democrats opposed. Bipartisanship!
The most depressing part of this whole charade was the fact that We the People were organized and unanimous in opposition to this bill. On the other side? Nobody. Not one person or organization spoke in favor. Not a single one of the 100 activists who showed up for the hearing. Not the California Democratic Party. Not the Republican Party. Not a single non-profit (or for-profit, for that matter). Not one lobbyist. Even the Republican candidate for governor opposes this bill.
I don’t want to be cynical. We still have chances to kill this bill (if you’re in CA, call your state senator – Indivisible script below), and even if they pass it, “they have money, we have people.” But man. To trudge up to Sacramento, take a day out of your life, have organized, unanimous opposition to a shitty bill, and still lose?
Organize your neighbors. Fight like hell. Vote them out.
reminder that no politician is your friend. none of them notice or care about you. none of them deserve your admiration, your breathless outrage, your defensive tweet threads and thinkpieces, or your constant affection and praise. youre a disgusting farm animal to them. thank you
— jon hendren (@fart) December 28, 2017
There may be a few exceptions, but this tweet sums up how I felt after my trip to Sacramento yesterday.