0

Ben Affleck for Senate? You can pledge $$$ now…

A Palo Alto-based political engagement startup has launched a new page giving people the power to pledge money to candidates for California’s 2016 U.S. Senate race – even if those potential candidates have not yet even expressed interest in running.

Crowdpac – described by Yahoo News last fall as “a Kickstarter for politics and a Match.com for web-savvy politicos” – has set up a pledge system in accordance with an August 2014 Federal Election Commission ruling allowing pledges, but not actual donations, before a candidate forms a campaign. Only if and when a candidate chooses to run will the user be charged.

Ben AffleckSo the group’s 2016 California Senate page includes declared candidates like state Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, and Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, D-Oceanside; people who’ve expressed interest but haven’t yet declared, like House members Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, and former state GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette; and celebs who’ve said nothing about entering the race, like actors Ben Affleck (D) and Kelsey Grammer (R).

Crowdpac already has a similar pledge page for the 2016 presidential race, including “say WHAT?” candidates like former Vice President Al Gore and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The idea is to alleviate the chicken-or-egg problem in modern campaign finance: Many ordinary Americans won’t make political contributions because they feel good candidates aren’t stepping forward, and many good potential candidates won’t step forward because they don’t think they can raise the tremendous sums required to run a big campaign. The Crowdpac team believes their pledge system will get more people engaged and invested in the process, and avoid having a few rich people anoint their chosen candidates.

It’s an interesting team. CEO and cofounder Steve Hilton is a visiting professor at Stanford, and a former senior advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cofounder Adam Bonica is a Stanford assistant professor of political science who studies the quantitative measurement of political ideology; he built the algorithms driving Crowdpac’s various services. And chief operating officer and cofounder Gisel Kordestani is a tech entrepreneur who has worked in early stage startups, management consulting and spent more than eight years at Google in senior global roles in finance and new business development.

3

Political transparency protests set for Thursday

Activists are planning 50 events in cities coast to coast – including Berkeley and Walnut Creek – on Thursday urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring contractors that do business with the government to disclose their political spending.

The rallies will include a news conference outside the White House, at which hundreds of thousands of petitions will be delivered.

For now, companies bidding for public contracts need not disclose their campaign spending; activists say this creates a corrupt pay-to-play system in which money from government contracts can secretly be used to re-elect those who award the deals. With an executive order, Obama could force contractors to disclose their spending so citizens can see which elected officials get the most contributions from them.

Thursday was picked for the national event because it’s the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which increased the flow of money from corporations, unions and the wealthy into politics.
Activists will gather at from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at South Main Street and Olympic Blvd. in Walnut Creek with signs, music, petitions and information sheets.

In Berkeley, activists will have a table on the University of California’s Sproul Plaza near Sather Gate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with en masse photos – featuring a large prop flashlight to “shine the light on political corruption – at noon and 2 p.m.

2

Bay Area House members out and about Friday

Bay Area House members have a bunch of events planned for Friday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will take part in a discussion with employers of the benefits of hiring trained ex-convicts at 9 a.m. Friday in the student lounge in Building R of Merritt College, 12500 Campus Dr. in Oakland. Others expected to take part include California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard; California Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo; Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle; Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles; and PWC Development President Prophet Walker, himself a former offender.

Mark DeSaulnierReps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Sarbanes, D-Md., will take part in a roundtable discussion on the problem of big money in politics, at 11 a.m. Friday in Blum Hall B100 at UC-Berkeley. The event, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, will address local and federal efforts to curb big money’s influence by amplifying small donors’ voices, as well as the recent push for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, the Berkeley Forum and others also will take part.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a forum to update the community about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at 4 p.m. Friday at the School of Arts and Culture in Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose. The event also offers eligibility workshops to prepare families to apply for relief from deportation pending availability of applications this year. Lofgren, Lofgren, the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will be joined by Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Santa Clara County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez; and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

4

Senate candidate Rocky Chávez coming to East Bay

2016 U.S. Senate candidate Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, will be at a campaign event Monday in the East Bay – but not for his campaign.

Rocky ChávezChávez will be the “VIP guest” at a fundraiser this Monday, March 16 for Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, the Bay Area’s only Republican in Sacramento. Tickets for the pre-St. Patrick’s Day reception – “heavy hors d’ouevres, no host bar, green beer complimentary for the first 30 lucky guests!” – at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon cost from $150 (“shamrock”) to $4,200 (“pot o’gold”).

Chávez declared candidacy March 5 for the senate seat from which Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will retire next year. The only other prominent candidate in the race so far is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat whom a recent Field Poll showed to be a frontrunner.

Catharine BakerTwo little-known Republicans, John Estrada of Fresno and Mark Hardie of Whittier, say they’re running too, though Hardie has yet to form a campaign committee. And former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette has formed an exploratory committee for the race.

Baker is wise to be raising money as soon as possible. She won her 16th Assembly District seat by a 3.2-point margin in November, but she should expect a much tougher fight in 2016 when heavier turnout drawn by the presidential election will help Democrats flex their 7-point voter registration advantage.

3

Citizens United anniversary brings protests

Activists are taking to the streets Wednesday in the Bay Area and across the nation to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has let an unprecedented flood of money wash across the face of American politics.

money in politicsIn Berkeley, the California Public Interest Research Group, local officials, students and residents gathered Wednesday morning on Cal’s Sproul Plaza. “Five years ago today, the Supreme Court went way off track, and gave mega-donors and corporate interests free rein to drown out the voices of the majority,” said Zach Weinstein of CALPIRG. “But we’re here today because the decision also sparked a movement of Americans working to take back our democracy, city-by-city and state-by-state.”

“We must stop the influx of big money in our democracy by passing an amendment to our constitution to stop corporations from being defined as people and money as speech; enacting disclosure laws, campaign finance contribution limits and publicly funded campaigns,” said Helen Grieco of Common Cause.

In San Francisco, activists are organizing a “Mourning in America” march starting at 3:30 p.m. from Market and Montgomery streets to the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Ave. for a 4:30 p.m. rally. The march, to “call for a reversal of corrupt campaign finance system that favors wealthy special interests over the public interest,” will be led by hip-hop artist Khafre Jay, effigies of the five Supreme Court Justices who were in the majority on Citizens United, a live band, and a coffin containing Uncle Sam; marchers are encouraged to wear black, and black armbands will be handed out.

Those scheduled to speak at the rally include former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin; good-government expert and former Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman; and others. Endorsers and organizers include the Money Out! People In! Coalition, 99Rise, CA Nurses Association, Common Cause, Courage Campaign, California Clean Money Campaign, Free Speech for People, Money Out Voters In (MOVI), MoveOn Councils, Move to Amend, Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center, Public Citizen, Represent.us, San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, Solar Justice, and the Sunflower Alliance.

99RiseIn Washington, D.C., seven 99Riseactivists disrupted Wednesday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court session. Each stood up and demanded that the court overturn Citizens United, before raising his or her index finger in the air – a gesture meant to represent the “one person, one vote” principle that they say the ruling undermined.

“We have seen the consequences of the free flow of private money rushing into our public political system,” activist Curt Ries said. “Nearly $4 billion was spent in the 2014 midterm elections, and almost all of it came from a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations. The kind of influence that money buys fundamentally corrupts our electoral process by giving undue representation to wealthy donors and corporations. That’s not a democracy, it’s a plutocracy.”

3

Will the rich buy California’s 2016 Senate race?

Campaign finance reform is needed to keep California’s 2016 U.S. Senate race from being bought by a small number of deep-pocketed donors, a consumer advocacy group said Wednesday.

The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is pushing for a federal program that would match small contributions with limited public funds, so that grassroots candidates relying on small donors can compete with big-money candidates.

“California is no exception to the rule of big donor domination of politics,” CALPIRG campaign organizer Zach Weinstein said in a news release. “Any candidate who wants to run a viable campaign for Senate in 2016 will need to raise millions and millions of dollars to do so, and our current system makes that level of fundraising nearly impossible if you rely on small donors. Unless you’re connected to a network of big donors, you’re out of the running before you even start. The reforms we’re proposing could fundamentally change that system.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced last week that she won’t seek a fifth six-year term in 2016. California Attorney General Kamala Harris declared her candidacy Tuesday, and although Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has opted out, several other well-known names are considering whether to run.

Candidates in California’s last four Senate elections raised an average of $8.76 million, according to a memo issued Wednesday by CALPIRG; the highest amount, $23.17 million, was raised by Boxer for her 2010 re-election battle against Republican Carly Fiorina, who raised $11.63 million.

Current rules say individual donors can give up to $2,600 to a candidate for a primary election and another $2,600 for the general election for a total of $5,200 per campaign cycle; the Federal Election Commission will to revise this limit upward in the next few weeks after receiving new Consumer Price Index figures from the Labor Department.

But based on the current limit, a Senate candidate would have to raise more than $13,000 from individuals every day from now until Election Day in order to hit the average $8.76 million mark, CALPIRG notes. For a candidate relying on donors who “max out,” that’s five donors per day; for a candidate relying on small donors giving an average of $150, that’s 88 donors per day.

“When campaigns are paid for by big donors, those are the voices candidates hear the loudest,” Weinstein said. “In a democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote, small donors should be at the center of campaign finance – not an afterthought.”