Did we learn anything from the corporate grab at the ballot box?

by on June 13, 2010 · 7 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Election

pg&eBy Michael Hiltzik /Los Angeles Times / June 12, 2010

We may finally have discovered a remedy for corporate executives with more greed than brains: Let them invest corporate funds by the millions in California ballot initiatives, then vote the things down.

Isn’t that the lesson of Tuesday’s balloting on Propositions 16 and 17, those majestically cynical initiatives sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Mercury Insurance Group?

To recap for the 82% of eligible voters statewide who didn’t bother to vote last week, Proposition 16 was an initiative concocted by PG&E, the state’s biggest private utility, to hamstring the public power agencies that are its chief competitors — pretty much its only competitors. Of the $46 million in cash contributions raised to pass the initiative, $46 million, or 100%, came from PG&E.

DayTheEarthStoodStillProposition 17 was an initiative concocted by Mercury to undermine the insurance consumer protection system put into place by Proposition 103 of 1988. Of the $13.56 million in cash raised to promote Prop. 17, $13.5 million came from Mercury, whose founder and chairman, George Joseph, has turned the punching of holes in Prop. 103 into a personal obsession. That spending may make Mercury a cheapskate by PG&E standards, but by any rational standard of democratic process, the scale of it was obscene.

Yet these initiatives went down in defeat by almost identical margins, losing about 52%-48%.

[Editor: both measures passed in San Diego County.]

That doesn’t speak well of the management prowess of the executives in charge. PG&E Chairman Peter Darbee walked his company down a $46-million plank to secure it nothing but a permanent place in the corporate citizenship hall of shame. He collected $10.6 million in compensation last year.

Do the PG&E directors really believe that the outcome of Tuesday’s vote is the sort of performance they’ve so lavishly paid Darbee to achieve? If they do, I have a follow-up question: What makes them qualified to serve on a corporate board?

Considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has given the green light to almost limitless political spending by corporate interests, it’s worth pondering how the initiatives lost, the better to deal with the oil slick of electoral cash sure to be heading our way on the next tide.

The most striking statistic that emerges from Tuesday’s results, as my colleagues Marc Lifsher and Dianne Klein have observed, is the margin by which Proposition 16 got beaten within PG&E’s service area in Northern and Central California — a “no” vote of more than 60% in much of the region.

The measure lost by narrower margins in many Southern California counties, where there wasn’t enough familiarity with PG&E to breed that much contempt.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

tj June 14, 2010 at 8:15 am

While the turnout was abismal – it’s better to not vote – than to vote without getting educated first.

Luckly the statewide majority that did vote saw through the spin.

Good one!


Pat June 14, 2010 at 8:58 am

Ah, but they got us with Prop 14.

There will no longer be any people’s candidates able to compete with the gazilliions that will be put into our primaries from now on- garnering the most votes for the top 2 corporatists, thereby eliminating ANY possibility for a people’s candidate.

OR they will be perhaps like what happened in SC where a homeless person that no Democrat knows got voted into the Democratic ticket spot up against well-known Republican Senator Jim DeMint. SOuth Carolina has an open primary- open to tampering by the Republicans and their corporate backers.

Next “primaries” we will see the results of our folly, California.

California might as well be swept off to sea already. Why wait?


Frank Gormlie June 14, 2010 at 9:21 am

Pat, I totally agree with the concerns expressed, but I did read somewhere that the Dems will probably challenge the Prop 14 vote in court.


tj June 14, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Pat & Frank,

I think Prop 14 was like term limits – as a whole the voters are so disgusted with “their” electeds – that they’ll try just about anything.

Both measures address the symptoms of the problem – the willfull disregard for the electorate’s interests by the elected, & the shameless pandering & blatant sell-out to special interests with self serving agendas.

There is no easy fix – especially in a society that prizes success … not principles.

As I understand it: At the end of her days, Mother Theresa was asked if she was unhappy that there was still so much suffering after devoting her whole life – & she replied – “I was called to be faithful, not successful.”

That’s beautiful.


Mother Teresa Center June 15, 2010 at 8:44 am

God Bless you TJ


Evan Ravitz June 14, 2010 at 9:15 am

To make it FAR easier to “see through the spin” California should implement Oregon’s new Citizen Initiative Review so that voters get the same kind of info that representatives get.

Both the International and national conferences on Direct Democracy will be held in San Francisco July 30-Aug 4: http://www.2010globalforum.com/

As Mom used to say “If you want something done right, you must do it yourself.”


Shane Finneran June 14, 2010 at 4:41 pm

The note about 16 and 17 passing in San Diego County, as well as our approval of “strong mayor,” once again makes me wonder why our city is so often an oasis of conservative stupidity in a state that tends to lean progressive. We’re like the inverse of Austin, Texas. Why is that? Isn’t sunlight supposed to be the best disinfectant?


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