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Michael Hiltzik: The 'Money Talks' election of 2010

May 1, 2010 | 11:38 am

The idea of government becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of a corporate state is a staple of dystopian literature and film, such as Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908), The President's Analyst (1967), in which the mysterious corporation "TPC" turns out to be "The Phone Company," and RoboCop (1987).

As my column for Sunday chronicles, that dystopia is here, and the evidence is on the California ballot. Two corporate propositions masquerading as public-interest measures will grace the June primary ballot -- the unspeakable Pacific Gas & Electric's Proposition 16, which is designed to give the private utility industry unassailable control over California's electric power business, and the egregious Mercury Insurance Group's Proposition 17, which is designed to eviscerate some of the insurance consumer protection rules created by voters under Proposition 103.

It gets worse. At a local level, Venoco Inc. is still pushing a referendum to seize planning power from Carpinteria's elected officials so it can ram through an oil drilling project. And a big, oily pool of petroleum companies is banding together in an attempt to suspend California's greenhouse gas emission rule via an initiative aimed for the November ballot. 

Is there any way to turn this tide? Something similar to Sen. Charles E. Schumer's (D-N.Y.) DISCLOSE Act, which would require CEOs of corporations sponsoring political ads to appear personally in those ads, might help in California -- the sight of PG&E Chairman Peter Darbee mouthing the fatuous nonsense in the company's Prop. 16 commercials, instead of a bland soccer-mom type, might help expose the measure for what it is: a power grab by a greedy corporation. 

The best corrective, of course, would be to vote down every initiative sponsored by a private corporation as a matter of principle. Anything else would only encourage them.

The column starts below:

Now that the “Money Talks” California election of 2010 is in full swing, it’s timely to examine just how loudly the millions of dollars being spent by major corporations at the ballot box are speaking, and what they’re saying.

To recap, this year stands to yield one of the greatest bumper crops in history in self-serving electoral cash.

With the exception of former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, who has demonstrated impressive skills at fundraising from her own pocket ($38 million for her gubernatorial campaign so far), the kings of campaign spending are corporations.

Pacific Gas & Electric continues to outdistance the field, having spent $28.5 million so far on what I like to think of as the “Immunize PG&E from Competition” initiative, or Proposition 16 on the June 8 ballot. By PG&E standards the runner-up, Mercury Insurance, is a piker — it has donated only $3.5 million to what I’ve deemed the “Let Mercury Trash Consumer Protection Laws” initiative, or Proposition 17.

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik