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.‘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/ Influence Tracker.

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