Puritans…Transcendentalists…Abolitionists…Suffragettes…Hippies…Civil Rights Activists…Occupiers…#BlackLivesMatter
From the Puritans’ belief that they were chosen to flee religious persecution to create a “city upon a hill” in a new world to the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s call to action against modern racial persecution at the hands of law enforcement, America is a country built on reform…the belief that our “perfect union” can always be infinitely more perfect.
Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite American philosophers and thinkers on civil disobedience once asked why we don’t “anticipate and provide for reform” and “encourage…citizens to be on alert” to point out our nation’s faults?
As we gear-up for the next presidential election, I find myself thinking about campaign finance reform and the need to reform our current system. A system where wealthy individuals and organized labor unions donate to Super PACs and unregulated non-profits in what Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig calls a system of “dependency corruption” which forces politicians to become more dependent on funders – those individuals one Face The Nation panelist referred to during last Sunday’s show as “sugar daddies and sugar mommas” – and voting on issues important to their single interest.
Nationally this group, part of the .05 percent of Americans who influence national elections, is comprised of people like the conservative Koch Brothers whose network is expected to give almost $1 billion to candidates, political action committees, and non-profit think tanks leading up to the 2016 elections or any one of the 132 wealthy Americans who gave over 60 percent of all the funds secured by Super PACs last election cycle.
Locally we have our own sugar daddies, the small percentage of wealthy funders – primarily land developers and investors – whose financial investments in local elections have bought them more than influence, it has purchased the future direction of our region bringing them even more personal wealth while jeopardizing our quality of life.
Citing our high level of air pollution, one of the highest in the nation, in his book From Acorns to Warehouses, UCR Professor Tom Patterson argues that the development and re-development of most municipalities in the Inland Empire have been ill-conceived with respect to the health and well-being of their residents…and “have too often bowed to the desires of developers or investors…”
And while the politicians and developers tout good jobs as the benefit, a study released last week by UCR researchers has found that a significant share of our local warehouse jobs are filled through temporary staffing agencies, typically pay less than a living wage, and are some of the most dangerous jobs in the US with a workplace injury fatality rate that is more than three times the average of all workers. So who is really benefiting here?
The Inland Empire is already nearing 2 billion square feet of industrial property involved in logistics, and more distribution centers and warehouses are being approved weekly in city council meetings throughout the Inland Empire.
Later this month, the Moreno Valley City Council will hold hearings on what would be the largest logistics mega-center in the country. The proposed World Logistics Center is a massive 40 million square foot project that at full build out would cover 10 percent of the city’s footprint and attract over 14,000 truck visits per day. Its developer is one of those “sugar daddies” I previously referred to who has spent considerable sums of money over the past decade financing city council candidates, funding independent campaigns to oust representatives unsympathetic to his cause, in essence buying the loyalty and support of those voting on his project.
I called Darrell Peeden, a reformer in Moreno Valley, to inquire about the work he is doing with My Mo Val, an advocacy group aimed at educating citizens on civic issues in Moreno Valley. Both Darrell and his twin brother Daniel are recent graduates of UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy and will become members of the college’s inaugural class of graduate students.
“We are educating our fellow residents on honest government and what big money is doing to our economic policy,” he said. “We’ve already knocked on over 6,000 doors letting people know how much money the developer of the World Logistics Center has spent on city council elections.” Recent reports have that number at over $500,000 in the last race. Unfortunately, he informed me, most people just aren’t educated on the issues. But, he says, he will continue to host home meetings and community events to bring awareness to the “dependency corruption” that plagues the system and continues to threaten our quality of life. We must force our elected representatives to listen to the many instead of voting for the interests of the few.
Both professors Patterson and Lessing believe we can reclaim our “Republic” by solving the problem and creating a government that works for all citizens, not the wealthy few. Lessing argues that it can be done with a single statute requiring small dollar funded elections or citizen-funded campaigns. We definitely can no longer afford to ignore this issue here in the Inland Empire.
“This will take time…” Darrell told me. “But I believe we will succeed.”
Visit mymoval.com to get involved.