The County Voice

What Would “Big Daddy” Say?

“Big Daddy” Jesse Unruh, the man who invented the modern role of the Speaker of the California Assembly, coined the phrase “money is the mother’s milk of politics” back in 1966. One could easily argue that it is still true today.

Campaign contributions and fundraisers are still a big part of the Capitol culture in Sacramento. The online publication, Capitol Morning Report has a section called “The Daily Bread” listing the day’s campaign fundraisers — most of them at various restaurants a short walk from the Capitol. And so I was struck by the optimism of long-time California political operative and now poli-sci professor and pundit, Dan Schnur who recently announced he is spearheading an effort to ban political fundraising during the legislative session.

Dan is an acquaintance of mine and I have great respect for his intellect and political acumen. He is a former strategist and spokesman for Governor Pete Wilson, and a former interim Director of the Fair Political Practices Commission. He is very serious in his effort to either pass legislation or qualify a ballot initiative that would make it illegal for sitting lawmakers to raise funds while the legislature is in session. He has gone so far as to reregister as “decline to state,” writing that he hopes this will bolster his credibility.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. First, while money and fundraising are undeniably a part of the political process, non-profits and quasi-governmental associations (like CSAC) that cannot afford, or are prohibited by law, from attending $4,800 breakfast-fundraisers, can and do have real impact in the Capitol. Organizations that can’t compete financially can instead expend their experience, expertise, trust, knowledge, and institutional memory. These too are valuable political capital.

And my second thought is to marvel at the wonderful irony here, because Dan currently works at the University of Southern California where he is the Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. I wonder what Big Daddy would have to say about interrupting the flow of political mother’s milk?

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