On March 1, 2015, MapLight celebrated a milestone: 10 years of shining light on our broken system of money-dominated politics.

Ten years ago, I was a disillusioned part-time activist frustrated that money made a bigger impact on how legislators voted than citizens’ voices did. This distortion wasn’t covered much in the news and didn’t register with many people as a fundamental problem we could work together to fix.

I started experimenting with political data, combining the money lawmakers receive with how they vote, sparking a new way of revealing the price we all pay for our broken political system. Working with my co-founders Jaleh Bisharat and Thomas Layton, MapLight grew from a tiny office in a rented spare bedroom to what is now a national organization exposing influence, affecting public debate, and helping to build the movement to fix our country.

When MapLight began, proving that special interest donations correlated to votes could take weeks of research for a single bill, leaving citizens in the dark. MapLight made it possible, for the first time ever, to unearth these connections with the click of a mouse—and opened a new era of exposing influence and achieving real-time accountability.

Since breaking new ground with our money and politics database in 2005, we have:

  • Reached 300 million people with data exposing money’s influence on politics through over 10,000 news stories in hundreds of media outlets.
  • Fielded 1,000 requests for custom money and politics data from journalists, activists, advocacy groups, and everyday citizens.
  • Fueled citizen-led victories on foreclosure reform, payday lending, copyright policy, consumer protections, and more.
  • Strengthened accountability campaigns on clean elections, net neutrality, fracking, the student debt crisis, government surveillance, and more.
  • Launched two dozen powerful tools for investigating patterns of influence online.
  • Won increased transparency for dark money, ballot measure interests,campaign contributions, and legislative votes in California.
  • Empowered 1 million people with Voter’s Edge, the first nonpartisan online guide providing meaningful data to voters in all 50 states.
  • Earned a James Madison Freedom of Information Award, a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism,a World Affairs Council NextGen Changemakers: Civic Innovation Award, a UN World Summit Award,NetSquared Innovation Award, and many more.

In the ten years since I co-founded MapLight, the money and politics reform movement has grown to national prominence. I am incredibly proud of the unique and critical role MapLight has played in raising the national consciousness and building the political climate necessary to remedy this fundamental flaw in our political system. As one of our supporters, you should be proud, too.

My deepest thanks to all of you—our financial supporters, volunteers, board members, data partners, dedicated staff team, and more. MapLight exists only because you want it to exist. Because you, and we, know that we can fix our country’s problems by working together.

Unions have been vocal about the negative effects of Citizens United on democracy, correctly pointing out how the unlimited secret spending that it unleashed on campaigns has drowned out the voices of working families. But now two of the biggest unions in California — the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association — are blocking a key bill in Sacramento that would give voters a fighting chance by pulling back the curtain on who’s behind political ads.

The California DISCLOSE Act (SB52) is simple. It lets voters know who is paying for ballot measure ads — on the ads themselves.

Companies and unions no longer could hide behind “front groups” to keep their identities secret from voters. No more tiny on-screen text. TV ads would show the top three funders in big, readable letters on a black background.

In one example from a past California initiative, vague language like “Paid for by ‘Stop Hidden Taxes’ — A Coalition of Taxpayers and Employers” would be replaced by language showing the real backers: “Ad paid for by a committee whose top funders are Chevron, American Beverage Association and Philip Morris.”

Every election, California voters are asked to vote on a bewildering array of important and complicated ballot measures. To make thoughtful decisions about these measures, we need basic information about who is behind them — including information about those funding the ads. So why are SEIU and the CTA trying to keep voters in the dark?

These two unions are among the largest spenders on election ads in California. Perhaps they think they would be less effective at buying influence if ads clearly identify them. MapLight, however, conducted voter research that shows that the support of SEIU or the CTA for a measure makes voters more likely to support the measure overall.

MapLight also found that overall voter support goes up when a measure is backed by the California Chamber of Commerce, a group that is often at odds with unions. Voters appear to want clarity into who is really behind measures.

Perhaps the SEIU and CTA are afraid they would be prevented from acting as “front groups” themselves for others’ campaign funds. The DISCLOSE Act no longer would allow the SEIU, the Chamber of Commerce or any other group to secretly launder money to keep the true funders of political ads hidden from the public.

The CTA and SEIU, who are among the top funders of Democratic politicians in California, are already exercising their influence to stop disclosure.

On Aug. 14, the DISCLOSE Act was announced in the Assembly Appropriations Committee as proceeding on a party-line vote, in which all 12 Democrats were expected to vote in favor and all five Republicans in opposition. The final voting record shows that three Democrats switched their votes to oppose disclosure: Sebastian Ridley-Thomas recorded his vote as “no.” Bill Quirk and Jimmy Gomez recorded theirs as “abstain.” All three lawmakers received campaign funds from both the CTA and SEIU.

Why single out the CTA and SEIU for their opposition to the bill? Because these two unions are among the only groups in the entire state in opposition. Four hundred groups and leaders have endorsed the bill, along with more than 70,000 Californians who have signed petitions for it.

The Assembly will vote on the bill this Saturday, Aug. 30. If you know one of the 700,000 members of SEIU in California, ask them if they’d rather know who’s really behind political ads, of if they’d rather be kept in the dark. And if you know any teachers, ask them why their union is trying to hide the basic information we all need to be informed California citizens.

Most importantly, if you’re a voter, ask Assembly members Ridley-Thomas, Gomez and Quirk and every other legislator, When the DISCLOSE Act comes to its final vote, are you going to vote to let ballot measure funders hide because unions who give you money are telling you to vote that way, or are you going to stand with voters and give us the transparency we need?

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News, August 26, 2014.

The bribery allegations against California state Sen. Leland Yee expose the folly of the U.S. Supreme Court’s logic in its April 2 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down restrictions on the amount of money individuals may donate to federal campaigns in an election cycle.

The only legitimate reason to set limits on funding politicians’ campaigns, according to the court’s majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, is explicit trades of campaign dollars for action — quid pro quo corruption. The court pointedly dismissed “the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials” as a reason to limit campaign donations.

The way our broken political system works, though, is that the chief place to raise money for campaigns is from industries and interest groups that want something from government. Influence is purchased all the time, whether in explicit quid pro quo trades or not, and such influence peddling just as bad for democracy as bribery. The real scandal in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., is not the occasional lawbreaking; it’s what’s legal.

According to the indictment, Yee allegedly received $10,000 from a campaign contributor and then wrote a letter in support of that contributor’s software firm. In addition, Yee allegedly made this trade on tape with an undercover FBI agent. (He has also been indicted for gun trafficking, which is not relevant to this discussion.) But imagine you’re state Sen. Jane Doe and you accept a $10,000 campaign contribution at a fundraiser and then a week later that contributor says to you, “By the way, my company could really use a letter of support, if you feel like it.” You say, “I’ll see what I can do,” and then you write the letter. Your behavior would be perfectly legal.

What’s the difference? For Yee, who was allegedly indiscreet enough to make such a deal explicit and to be caught on tape by the FBI, plenty. But for the rest of us citizens who must live under the distorted decisions of politicians continually focused on raising the campaign funds they need for re-election, it is a distinction without a difference.

Reading the FBI complaint against Yee on this bribery allegation, I was struck by how his discussions with the undercover FBI agent disguised as a campaign contributor were so similar to other lawmakers’ routine campaign fundraising. The usual fundraising and lawmaking that goes on in Sacramento and Washington is legalized bribery.

It costs $1 million, on average, to win a state senate campaign. That means raising about $10,000 a week for two years. How can any candidate raise that much money?

Simple: There’s an unlimited supply of campaign funds available from the people, companies and interests that want something from government. That’s where Yee’s money — and most of the money for political campaigns — comes from.

MapLight, the nonprofit I head that studies money in politics, researched campaign contributions to Yee, going back several years. Some of the people mentioned in the indictment have given him campaign contributions. But overall, his campaign contribution pattern is similar to many other California Democratic legislators’. For example, unions are among his top contributors; he received money from Time Warner and other companies too.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Arizona and a half-dozen other states, laws creating public funding of elections let candidates run for office and win without dependence on big campaign donors. Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was the first governor in U.S. history elected without private money. She quickly created a prescription-drug discount program for Arizona citizens and said that she couldn’t have done this if she had taken pharmaceutical firm campaign money.

The Yee affair is the third scandal to hit California’s state legislature in the past six months. These stories further erode the trust people have placed in our political institutions and the well-meaning public servants who have become tainted by these scandals. Lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington understandably don’t want the public to distrust them all equally.

But dismissing the accused as just a few bad apples hardly does justice to the situation. It’s our broken money-based political system that elects legislators who are forced to spend most of their time on transactions with special interests for campaign donations rather than on legislating for the common good. The system forces politicians to compete for money and attracts lawmakers who are good at trading money for influence. Instead of electing the best leaders, we elect the best fundraisers.

If lawmakers from Sacramento to Capitol Hill want to change the public’s perception of them, they must stand up and say, “We are going to reform the system that makes people dependent upon relentless fundraising to get elected.” Legalized bribery is bribery all the same.

Originally published by Al Jazeera America, April 11, 2014.

Happy FEC day! Today, April 30, 2013, marks the day that the term of the last Federal Elections Commissioner expires. Now, out of six seats on the FEC, one seat is vacant and every remaining commissioner is serving an expired term. And we’re not talking about weeks or months: FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub’s term, for example, expired in April 2007.

What is holding things up? President Obama could, if he wished, appoint new commissioners to all six FEC seats. (No more than three commissioners can be from one party, and appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.) Obama could choose commissioners who actually want to enforce the law, clearing a path to progress, at last, on regulations to end secret money. (See Trevor Potter’s piece, How the FEC can stop the tidal wave of secret political cash.)

Fixing the FEC is the “low hanging fruit” of the money and politics movement.

Neither Citizens United nor other Supreme Court decisions require campaign contributions to be kept secret. Rather, these court decisions interact with existing law to create giant loopholes that led to the flood of dark money in recent elections. Several times, even with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Congress failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would have ended the secrecy of campaign contributions. Now, with Republicans controlling the House, there is no chance for disclosure legislation passing in Congress.

But these loopholes aren’t immutable: the FEC also has the power to compel disclosure of all contributions. This wouldn’t make the unlimited spending go away, but it would make this spending public and transparent, an essential step forward.

In 2007 Obama said, “As president, I will appoint nominees to the Commission who are committed to enforcing our nation’s election laws.” Why hasn’t he done so?

The absence of organized political pressure has allowed Obama to serve four years as President without appointing a single new commissioner. (One nomination, made in 2009, was later withdrawn.) CREW and a handful of other groups have spotlighted the problem, but this is just the beginning. What is desperately needed is a well-resourced, organized campaign with a broad coalition of groups involved.

A two-year national campaign, requiring only a fraction of the resources of a campaign to pass a national law, would be enough to create the public pressure necessary to drive Obama to appoint these commissioners. With the opportunity for an easy win with modest resources – not to mention the chance to end secret money – this is one of the best investments our movement could make.

Obama has already said he wants to do this. Are we going to wait for a new president to appoint new commissioners? Or are we as a movement going to put the pressure on now, when we have a president who is already favorably inclined, a president who understands the issue – a president who for eight years served on the board of directors of the Joyce Foundation, with its long-time support of money and politics reform?

In forty years, there has never been more public disgust with the corrupting influence of money on politics. The public is with us in spirit. But to build the movement, we need wins. Ending secret money would be a big national win, and the only national win on the two-year horizon right now. Will we as a movement seize this rare opportunity, or let it pass?


Originally published by Washington Examiner, May 6, 2013.

The disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision three years ago unleashed a flood of political money unprecedented in U.S. history. Organizations can now raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, without disclosing where that money came from. These “dark money” groups spent hundreds of millions of dollars nationally to influence November’s elections.

In California, this dark money poured into campaigns for California’s congressional representatives, and for state ballot measures. Most notably, a group called Americans for Responsible Leadership spent $11 million to influence Propositions 30 and 32 — without disclosing its donors. Chairwoman Ann Ravel led California’s Fair Political Practices Commission in a lawsuit against the group to pry free the basic civic information of who was funding their efforts to influence California elections.

The state’s suit was successful, but only up to a point. Americans for Responsible Leadership was forced to reveal that it received the $11 million from a second group, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which in turn received it from a third group, Americans for Job Security.

The donors to this third group are still secret today — and the current law allows them to remain that way. Voters now know the nondescript names of three secret groups that funneled money — but are still in the dark about who really influenced California’s ballot measures.

Citizens United also freed corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections. The public doesn’t know the extent of corporate spending on elections, because the law currently allows corporations to keep their spending secret. Consumer-facing corporations, sensitive to public perceptions of political influence, are able to hide their political spending by financing trade associations, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that do not have to disclose their donors.

And we certainly can’t rely on corporations to voluntarily self-disclose. In a public statement to its shareholders, the insurance giant Aetna promised to be transparent about its political spending. Then, it accidentally revealed in a year-end regulatory filing that it contributed $4.5 million to the Chamber of Commerce to influence elections — a mistaken disclosure that it promptly deleted from its public filing.

Congress will not be acting to reveal this secret money anytime soon. Republicans in Congress will continue to block the DISCLOSE Act and similar sunshine attempts, because the dark money overwhelmingly benefits them.

In November’s elections, 85 percent of dark money supported Republicans, according to research from the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

In California, we can ourselves take major steps that will unmask some of this secret money nationally, leveraging our position as the nation’s most populous and most influential state. These three California proposals, if implemented at the state level, would reveal dark money across the nation:

First, the state could make use of its tremendous purchasing power to require that companies contracting with the state disclose all their political contributions — national, state, and local. It’s bad enough that government contractors contribute to politicians who can help them win contracts. We citizens should at least know what these contributions are.

Second, California could require that all companies doing business in the state disclose all their political contributions — national, state, and local. As the eighth largest economy in the world, California can use our economic size to leverage the political transparency that is critical for our democracy.

Third, California could require disclosure of every entity making major contributions to the type of “pass-through” dark money groups implicated in the $11 million political money-laundering case. California could require the disclosure not just of the generic name of an organization, but of all the organization’s major donors, if the organization’s money was spent on California elections. This change would mean that, in the case of the laundered $11 million, all three dark money groups that touched the funds would have to disclose all their major donors, opening up a window into these groups’ funding sources nationally.

Reforms such as these are well within our grasp. In both chambers of the California Legislature, there have been proposals for legislation, such as the California Disclose Act (SB 52) in the current session, which would bring greater accountability to our elections. What we need now, though, is to move beyond mere proposals.

The California public is disgusted with our broken system of money-dominated politics. Any or all of these three changes made by Sacramento lawmakers would shine a bright light on dark money nationally, while endearing their legislative champions to the California public.

Originally published by the Contra Costa Times/Oakland Tribune, January 26, 2013.

California voters gained the power to place measures on the ballot a century ago to break the grip of wealthy interests controlling government. Initially, the requirement to gather large number of petition signatures ensured that only measures with broad popular support would make it to the ballot.

Now paid signature gatherers qualify any measure, for a price. It’s largely wealthy companies and rich individuals who wrote the 11 state measures Californians voted on Tuesday.

Do you have $1 million to spare? No? Then your money didn’t matter much in the ballot measure campaigns. There were just 47 funders who spent $1 million or more on the campaigns, but their funds made up a whopping 80 percent of all funds raised.

Three common-sense changes to California’s ballot measure system would make citizens’ voices count more and big bank accounts count less.

First, television ads should display the top three funders on the lower third of the screen, in plain white type on a black background, for the entire length of the ad. All other political advertising should prominently display the top three funders of the ad as well. The ads should show the original source of the funds, not innocuously named front groups for money laundering.

Campaign advertisements are often biased and misleading, but the financial supporters of measures are facts. Requiring prominent transparency in advertising will help voters evaluate the credibility of the messenger as well as the message, decreasing the influence of those seeking to buy a law.

The California Disclose Act, which included some of these transparency provisions, was narrowly defeated in the Assembly earlier this year. In the wake of the $372 million contributed to California ballot measures to date, including scandalous anonymous donations, a stronger version of the Disclose Act will return to Sacramento with more strength and citizen support.

Second, we should not allow paid signature gatherers to be paid by the signature, and petitions should prominently display whether they are being circulated for pay or by volunteers. These changes would keep voters informed about the monied influence behind a potential measure, and make it harder for wealthy interest groups to qualify ballot measures that lack genuine public support.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill last year that would have prevented signature gatherers from being paid by the signature, but with increasing citizen disgust at money-dominated politics this measure is ripe to return.

Third, the five-month window to gather signatures is simply too short to qualify ballot measures using all volunteers. Increasing this window to one year would make it possible for ballot measures with broad popular support to qualify for the ballot using all-volunteer signature campaigns. This change would open up a window for citizen ballot measures — measures backed by popular support, popular concern or popular desire to see change in our state.

With these three changes, big checkbooks would still speak loudly on the ballot but the collective voices of citizens would be speaking as well.

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News, November 7, 2012.

With its disastrous Citizens United decision two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. By the court’s invented criteria, this unlimited spending does not corrupt American democracy so long as it’s “independent” of candidates’ own campaigns. The court also promoted transparency — disclosure of who funds our politicians — as a key ingredient in our democracy. Two years later, this independence and transparency are, in practice, merely myths.

  • The Myth of Independence: Since the Citizens United decision, super PACs have become an expanding legal channel for corporations and individuals to promote candidates with unlimited funds. We hear candidates on the campaign trail repeatedly say that super PACs are independent from candidate campaigns. But super PAC independence is a myth. Super PACs typically are run by close associates of the candidate.Although super PACs cannot privately discuss with a candidate’s campaign the size and location of their ad buys, they don’t need to — they simply can publish this information on their websites or in news articles. Super PACs and candidate campaign funds all are part of the same machine working to promote the candidate, a distinction with little difference.
  • The Myth of Transparency: It is a myth that there is meaningful disclosure of who is paying for candidates to get elected. Corporations and individuals now can spend unlimited money anonymously. They do this through various legal methods, including passing funds through nonprofit groups.Even if contributions aren’t made anonymously, for many large corporate donations, voters still cannot determine who is funding a candidate until after election day. For example, super PACs created after Jan. 1 do not have to disclose their donors until February. This six-week disclosure black hole includes the Republican primary elections in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. The presidential nomination race might be decided before we know who funded the candidates.Contributions to U.S. Senate campaigns in the weeks before election day aren’t posted publicly until after voters cast their ballots. This delay comes from an indefensible legal exception that lets Senate candidates file disclosure reports on paper, while House and presidential candidates must file electronically.

Candidates benefit from the Myth of Independence. They avoid getting their hands dirty by being associated with sharp negative advertising, even though these ads are placed by the candidates’ close associates and funded by their main financial backers.

Candidates also benefit from the Myth of Transparency. They avoid the public accountability of whether they are working for their voters or their donors.

President Barack Obama can make progress on his transparency promises now, simply by appointing commissioners to the moribund Federal Elections Commission. The FEC has the power to pass stronger transparency and independence rules, and five of the six FEC commissions are serving despite expired terms. Yet Obama has refused to nominate new commissioners.

Senators can act now as well to end their absurd electronic filing exemption. Congress can pass a law for rapid and comprehensive transparency of political money, like the DISCLOSE Act, which was defeated two years ago.

These measures would not by themselves fix our corrupt political system, but they are steps forward and could be done quickly.

The five Supreme Court justices who decided the Citizens United case wrote that corporations’ unlimited political spending was allowed so long as it was not coordinated with a candidate. But in practice, independence is a myth.

The court also wrote of the critical importance of disclosure of who funds our politicians: “Prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. … Citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

Now, two years later, we have neither meaningful independence nor disclosure. Our government is now corrupt, both in fact and in law.

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News, January 20, 2012.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the self-proclaimed “cop on the beat” dedicated to policing unfair, deceptive and abusive financial services — fell victim to the consequences of relentless fundraising demanded by our money-dominated political system.

With the nomination of Richard Cordray, President Barack Obama bypassed Elizabeth Warren, who, as the Nation put it, has “done more than anyone since Ralph Nader to put consumer protection on the national agenda.” Warren was the driving force behind the bureau’s creation and was appointed interim director last fall after a public campaign on her behalf. Yet despite these qualifications, Obama chose not to nominate her.

It is hard to believe that such a decision reflects qualifications or “confirmability,” as has been claimed, as much as a cold financial calculus. In the 2008 election cycle, Obama received $26 million from banks and financial services companies and employees — more than any other presidential candidate in history, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Facing a potentially rocky road to re-election, Obama is seeking to raise another $750 million for his campaign, and potential bank contributions represent a significant chunk of that total.

Given the fierce opposition of banks and financial services groups to the consumer bureau in general, and the appointment of Warren in particular, it’s easy to infer the campaign funds at stake in the decision.

It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to run for president. The top source of these campaign funds: interests who receive a financial return on their campaign investments. Industries that gain or lose billions from government decisions don’t think twice about investing hundreds of millions to buy themselves influence.

Obama’s decision not to appoint Warren will surely be blamed on the difficulty of her winning confirmation. But given her qualifications, what would make her unconfirmable? Consider the $95 million that the financial sector has given to current members of the Senate since 2005; $52 million of those funds were given to Republicans, who have claimed they will not confirm any bureau head unless there are substantial changes in the structure of the bureau, such as replacing the position of a strong agency director with a board of directors and making the agency’s budget subject to annual appropriations by Congress.

Obama faced a critical choice: buck the banks by appointing Warren, and risk seeing $26 million in re-election funds dry up — or toe the industry line and let stronger consumer protections, the end of predatory lending, fair mortgage rules and other promised protections fall through the cracks. Fundraising once again trumped policy.

The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a charge to represent citizens’ interests in the financial transactions that affect all of our lives intimately — the homes we live in, the amounts we earn and save. In 2009, Obama said the CRPB “will have just one mission: to look out for the financial interests of ordinary Americans “… We have already seen and lived the consequences of what happens when there is too little accountability on Wall Street and too little protection for Main Street, and I will not allow this country to go back there.”

But the agency is not really for ordinary Americans when the president who chooses its leader must kneel to the checkbooks of the bankers to have enough money to run for office in our democracy.

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News, July 21, 2011.

Lawmakers in Sacramento say they represent the people. But voters have little to do with who really runs our state. Corporations and lobbyists pay to get lawmakers elected, then write the laws that govern us.

So it’s time to stop pretending. Lawmakers should be required to wear logos, NASCAR-style, of the companies that sponsor their campaigns and write our laws.

A special report, “How our laws are really made,” published recently in the San Jose Mercury News, highlighted a disturbing lawmaking practice that is commonplace in Sacramento. Reporter Karen de Sá found that 39 percent of bills in Sacramento were sponsored by outside interests. And these sponsored bills made up 60 percent of the legislation that was passed into law.

Passage of these special-interest laws is greased by millions in lobbying and campaign contributions by these same interests. MapLight.org‘s research found that California legislators raised more than three out of every four dollars in campaign funds from outside of where their constituents live.

Our research also revealed that funding of California lawmakers’ campaigns is dominated by business groups. Businesses and trade associations paid for 40 percent of California legislators’ campaigns over the past three years. Unions paid for 16 percent, and private citizens paid for just 17 percent.

Lawmakers give away citizens’ money, water and air to the corporations and lobbyists who pay for them to get elected. If the office-holders were required to wear NASCAR-style logos, this would become transparent.

As one example, the maroon and black logo of the Illinois-based Plumbing Manufacturers Institute should be among those sewn prominently to the suit of Sen. Ron Calderon.

Are your water faucets lead-free? Thanks to a bill the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute sponsored, industry-friendly labs favorable to faucet manufacturers do the testing, rather than state regulators. Calderon introduced this bill, which is now law. According to the Mercury News, Calderon received $13,900 from the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute and its faucet-manufacturer members.

Calderon is the norm, not the exception. Virtually all state lawmakers (except Sen. Tom McClintock) introduced bills sponsored by outside interests, according to the Mercury News report. And all depend on hat-in-hand fundraising to win office and stay there.

With our logo proposal, when lawmakers get up to speak, colorful patches on their suits will make it clear whom they represent. Your lawmaker, not just your AT&T installer, will wear the familiar blue and white AT&T sphere. AT&T is among the top spenders on lobbying in California — as is the Western States Petroleum Association. The association’s curved swoosh will be prominent on lawmakers’ suit jackets, along with the logos of their oil company members, including the red letters of ExxonMobil and the cheerful yellow and green sun of BP.

No doubt political leaders will protest. But enough is enough. We might as well make it clear that when lawmakers speak, what we’re actually hearing is a word from their sponsors.

Update: See your lawmaker with NASCAR-style logos with the MapLight/Wired.com Influence Tracker.

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News, July 29, 2010.

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