Last week there was a very interesting report on spending in the last mayoral election. In it, consultants to the San Jose Elections Commission reported that independent spending in the election totaled over $3 million. Of the six groups that were mentioned, five were associated with the Democratic Party and organized labor (including the police and fire unions). The fifth, and perhaps most controversial and effective, was the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC that leveled some particularly pointed shots at the Cindy Chavez candidacy. By far the largest spender was the Santa Clara County Democratic Campaign, who spent over $1.7 million, ostensibly in support of Chavez’s failed campaign.
The report’s conclusion was interesting and bizarre. In the finding, the Sacramento-based consultant concluded that since most of the money was spent for Chavez and since she lost overwhelmingly to Chuck Reed, then the effects of the independent and probably coordinated spending had no effect. They had “no more or less chance of succeeding.”
Huh? You mean just because the monies were unable to sway an electorate that had already in this one election made up their minds to vote against the status quo of City Hall, then the money had no effect. This is very faulty logic. There are certain waves of public opinion that even the skullduggery of paid hacks and deceit cannot change, no matter which side it comes from. That is universally the case in some elections. But in lesser races—say District 8 in Evergreen, or certain supervisors’ races or other such low-key competitions—when “directed mail” exposes the deficiencies or simply tells lies, they can be quite effective.
It is only in the highest level of elections where public opinion is so strong that such mendacious or principled (depending on our point of view) “hits” by business, labor, gambling or oil interests will only have minimal effect. (Look at the Clinton victories in certain late primary states despite being outspent 3- or 4-to-1 by Obama as being good examples of money in some races not mattering.) Yet, some “swift boating,” as we painfully observed in the last presidential election, can turn an honored veteran into a coward and a bunch of “chicken hawks” into exalted warriors. Go figure?
The arithmetic is also faulty in the Mercury article when they say the money spent in “support of former labor organizer Chavez” was more than her $1.2 million, while it is clear that all but $393,000 of the total of $3.3 million was spent by labor and their committees “for” Chavez. Mayor Reed was quoted as saying in the aftermath: “I’m surprised I won.”
Well, the fact that he did, and that sometimes money fails to dissuade the voters, is not the norm. Time and again, particularly in less publicized races down the ballot or propositions, the impact of money is supreme.
So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s have labor and the chamber and the public safety unions agree to cease and desist (you know, a Pax San Joseum). Then, go a step further and take the $3-5 million that will be spent on the next mayoral and council elections, and create a fund to alleviate the gang culture in San Jose, give assistance to nonprofits working in these areas, provide youth counseling, and help inner-city schools like Washington, Horace Mann, and Downtown College Prep.
By accepting the premise of the report, we can do a lot of good, still not effect the elections, and make a few neighborhoods in San Jose a better place to live. Now that’s a report that I would eagerly embrace and a leadership in the above organizations that I would deeply respect.