Page Two

Page Two
Our current cover is making me kind of queasy. Understandably, Ann Richards is still a hero to many people in this state, an inspirational figure. Those people will insist that the cover and Robert Bryce's story (see "Politics") are outrageous, exploitative, exaggerated yellow journalism. They will defend Richards as a woman of remarkable integrity and political courage, someone who has dedicated her whole life to public service instead of bothering with her personal fortunes. Now, she is working as a lobbyist to earn herself a comfortable retirement -- how insensitive and inane that we criticize her for one or two clients. This is not an unreasonable argument. One of the great crises in American politics right now is the electorate's loss of faith in the honor and integrity of politicians and the political process. The extraordinary power of big money fuels this assumption. It seems that anything and anybody can be bought. Given her record, one suspects that even as a lobbyist Richards is operating by certain moral standards. What Richards is doing is completely legal and there are all kinds of people working on the same projects and ones similar to the ones she is supporting. Yes, but Richards isn't just all kinds of people. She is a very special person with whom people across the state and nation have invested a lot of confidence and faith. When one of the country's most respected progressive politicians works as a lobbyist against logical environmental concerns, it really compounds that sense that there is no one who can be trusted in American politics.

One of our most admired politicians, Ann Richards is a hero of the people. She is a great role model. Even those close to her who love her and appreciate her every action should be able to understand how this lobbying effort could help to break the hearts of already weary and disillusioned voters.

This widespread despair has lead to political action, including the current campaign finance reform proposition before Austin voters. The Chronicle editorial board, currently comprised of politics editor Audrey Duff, assistant politics editor Amy Smith, publisher Nick Barbaro, and myself, must unanimously agree before we take an endorsement position. If we split, depending on how and for what reasons, we do anything from offering no endorsement to exploring both sides of the issue. This is what we did on the current proposition concerning campaign finance reform. Ordinarily, once we've resolved those issues in editorial board I don't comment on them in "Page Two" but this campaign finance reform is a really bad proposition. The intent behind campaign finance reform is understandable and admirable -- to create a more level playing field -- but when we vote for a specific proposition, intent is unimportant. This is a very bad proposition. It will do exactly the opposite from what is intended, which is to empower the ordinary voter. Although the effects of development money on local politics can't be argued, we see these efforts coming more through the state and through lobbying than in city council campaigns.

This ordinance privileges incumbents and the rich, those with name recognition and personal money, over grassroots candidates. If it had been in place, it would have vastly favored Bruce Todd over Daryl Slusher (and though Slusher didn't win his results in that campaign established him politically), Eric Mitchell over Willie Lewis, and Ronney Reynolds and Max Nofziger over Kirk Watson (though I must confess that I believe Watson would have gone door to door, person to person, $100 to $100, to win). A record indicative not of the power of big money but of effective grassroots organizing and fundraising. These were still people's campaigns, campaigns where many of the givers gave over $100.

Big money has its own intelligence and goals. It doesn't exist because there are campaigns asking for it, it exists to accomplish certain missions. If it doesn't go to campaigns it will go elsewhere and, because individual citizen contributions have been limited, it will have even more power.

As a matter of policy I almost never give to political campaigns, but both Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro and I donated more than $100 each to Slusher's campaign because we believed he was the best candidate for Austin's future. If this proposition is enacted it will limit my ability to give money. It will not in any way stop the powerful group of Houston or Dallas lawyers and lobbyists from coming to town and wining and dining politicians as part of their everyday business dealings. My ability to influence the course of the city's political future will be limited, theirs will be enhanced.

A certain part of the community is very pro-growth, another part specifically "anti" anything the environmentalists are for; sometimes their candidates are going to win, big money infusions or no big money. But the truth is that campaign financing is not a problem in Austin. If anything, the environmental community carries a lot of fiscal weight, though rather than from massive contributions from corporations or PACs this money comes from a mass of individuals. Many give well over $100.

This proposition, riding the wave of national outrage over big money abuses, is a terrible solution to a problem that doesn't exist. In the long run, if we pass this feel-good proposition we will all come to regret it as money flows to issue-oriented organizations, which, rather than candidates, will dominate the ongoing political dialogue. The progressive community, most likely to vote for this, will be cutting its own throat and damaging the future of the city. To read the opposing point of view, see "Endorsements."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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