What We Have Built: A System By, For, and Of the Lobbyists

Jim Sanders has some interesting thoughts, many of which have passed between my two ears over the last couple of weeks with the closing of the legislative sessions. Specifically, there have been a few instances of crass political maneuvering outweighing policy.  Not that it is anything new, nor is the impact of lobbyists anything innovative. But it seems, as the legislature has completely lost its institutional knowledge, the power of the almighty lobbyist dollar has become magnified. And Sanders has some specific examples, take for example the interesting case of the plastic bag measure, AB 1998.

Plastic bags have been “banned” from major San Francisco groceries for several years now.  The sky has not fallen, and prices have not skyrocketed. You see more reusable bags these days (which is an incontrovertible good), and a bunch more paper (which is a bit of a wash).  But, what is also clear is that the plastic bags are killing the San Francisco Bay and other California waterways.  Millions are floating around the bay, and drastic action is necessary, as these things just don’t break down over any short-term horizon.

But, you know, as Dustin Hoffman learned in The Graduate: “plastics!”

Supporters of the plastic-bag ban struggled to overcome an army of lobbyists – including former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez – and a tsunami of “misleading ads,” said Dan Jacobson, of Environment California.

“Money was no object,” he said of opponents, who also unleashed a flurry of political donations.

“If the American Chemistry Council wasn’t in the middle of the debate, this would have been a no-brainer bill getting through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat who proposed the ban.

But Tim Shestek, of the chemistry council, said accusations of undue influence unfairly ignore that the coalition of AB 1998 supporters was high-powered as well, including grocers, labor groups, environmentalists and legislative leaders. (SacBee)

Was it a fair fight, maybe, maybe not, but the greater issue is that the paid corporate interests are now drowning out the voices of the people. Even if legislators make a concerted effort to talk to constituents, they get flooded with industry spurred communication.

There are many reasons for these issues, and some have no simple cure.  BUt surely, some sort of fix that allows our legislators to gain the upper hand through experience in their position before they are on to the next gig would be a reasonable starting point.

8 thoughts on “What We Have Built: A System By, For, and Of the Lobbyists”

  1. is that it’s now okay to go out of the store without any bags at all. You can just load it into your car from the cart if you like, and everyone’s cool with that.

    It’s nice. And amazing to see the change happen so quickly.

  2. Some kind of serious campaign finance reform – such as public financing – would be the obvious starting place.

    So too would be reform of the Legislature itself. Triple the size, go to a unicameral system – that would help connect legislators more closely to voters.

    It’s absurd that a fucking bag ban couldn’t get out of this legislature, or an updated RPS, or getting BPA out of children’s plastics.

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