For the better part of the day, Yahoo!’s home page has featured this as one of its top news stories, “In Calif., GOP candidate on record spending spree“. In the article, we read that former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has been outspent “outspent 6-1 through mid-October” by his Republican rival Meg Whitman.
At the end of the article, though, we learn that her real fundraising edge might not nearly be so great:
Whitman says the record-level spending is needed to offset the influence of public employee unions, which have spent some $20 million on Brown’s behalf. Her public appearances have been hounded by union activists, who have accused her of trying to buy the election.
So, we’ve got activists, speaking on behalf of public employee unions accusing someone of trying to buy an election. That’s rich. Indeed, in the past five years alone, unions have spent upwards of $300 million dollars on political activity in California.
That’s one of the real — and missed — stories of the election this fall in California. We Republicans need a candidate with deep pockets to counter the built-in advantage the Democrats have from the public employee unions. And they, those unions, more than any other interest group in the Golden State, are responsible for the mess we’re in.
Brown may have benefited in the polls for grandstanding on the outrageous pensions that Democrats in the City of Bell awarded to various municipal employees, but it was his understudy Gray Davis who helped create the mess. As Steven Malanga notes in his must-read piece “The Beholden State,” the problems began in 1998 when Davis, a former chief of staff to Brown for the better part of the latter’s tenure as governor, ran for his old boss’s job:
The beginning of the end was the 1998 gubernatorial election, in which the unions bet their future—and millions of dollars in members’ dues—on Gray Davis. The candidate traveled to the SEIU’s headquarters to remind it of his support during earlier battles against GOP governors (“Nobody in this race has done anywhere near as much as I have for SEIU”); the union responded by pumping $600,000 into his campaign. . . .
Davis’s subsequent victory over Republican Dan Lungren afforded public-worker unions a unique opportunity to cash in the IOUs that they had accumulated, because Davis’s Democratic Party also controlled the state legislature. What followed was a series of breathtaking deals that left California state and municipal governments careening from one budget crisis to another for the next decade.
Perhaps the most costly was far-reaching 1999 legislation that wildly increased pension benefits for state employees. It included an unprecedented retroactive cost-of-living adjustment for the already retired and a phaseout of a cheaper pension plan that Governor Wilson had instituted in 1991. The deal also granted public-safety workers the right to retire at 50 with 90 percent of their salaries. To justify the incredible enhancements, Davis and the legislature turned to CalPERS, whose board was stocked with members who were either union reps or appointed by state officials who themselves were elected with union help. The CalPERS board, which had lobbied for the pension bill, issued a preposterous opinion that the state could provide the new benefits mostly out of the pension systems’ existing surplus and future stock-market gains. Most California municipalities soon followed the state enhancements for their own pension deals.
And since then, the public employee unions, their coffers filled with compulsory dues from the salaries of workers paid for by California taxpayers, have been pumping hundreds of dollars into Democratic campaigns to maintain this status quo — while opposing initiatives which could reform the broken system.
Don’t know why that figure doesn’t get as much coverage as the millions Meg is pumping into her own campaign. You can help Meg counter the corrupt status quo.