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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Fundraising and Relationships

At Zocalo Public Square, Pete Peterson writes of his 2014 race for California Secretary of State:
The person who starts on the school board with a plan to become governor has a very different way of thinking about his or her life. A career politician like my opponent can build relationships with donors over many elections, with everyone secure in the knowledge that he’d be there in the future—and probably in an office with even greater influence. There’s also a practical advantage. As a career politician, my opponent could transfer funds from his previous campaigns into the statewide race.

Also favoring the insider—particularly in California—is the substantial presence of the “third house”—a vast network of associations, corporations, and unions with lobbying interests in Sacramento. Most Californians have never heard of the California Infill Builders Federation PAC, the Technet California Political Action Committee, or the California Refuse Recycling Council North PAC, but these groups (and dozens more) contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to my opponent.

Why are these organizations interested in the secretary of state’s race? Viewed in the best light, these contributions come through standing relationships. In many ways, this is the primary skill of a successful career politician—an ability to make particular kinds of political relationships, aligning personal positions on issues with the financial benefits of voting on them.

My opponent had built these relationships over eight years in Sacramento as a state senator and the preceding seven years as a Los Angeles city councilman—on issues ranging from plastic bag bans to telecom legislation. A quick check of donations to his secretary of state campaign reveals financial support from groups ranging from the California Grocers Association to AT&T. (With all the talk these days about “outside money” in politics, the only independent expenditure in my race was a $170,000 project in support of my opponent, initiated by the California Labor Federation—yet another third house organization.)

This fundraising avenue is almost completely shut off for outsiders. It’s not that I didn’t try. Several times I was told by third house leaders I met with that I presented an “interesting campaign,” but because the organization “had a piece of legislation before my opponent’s committee the next day,” they could not be seen supporting my run with a donation.

I hoped some groups might open their wallets when my opponent termed out of office after the close of the legislative term in August. But then my staff and I were informed, “Your opponent has a lot of friends who are not terming out. If we support you, we lose the support of those friends.”

Ah, relationships.