HOW MUCH IS THAT POLITICIAN IN THE WINDOW?
In one episode of the classic comedy sitcom Dharma and Greg, Dharma decides to run for office. Trying to talk her out of the idea, her husband Greg asks his wealthy father what it takes to win a race for the county board of supervisors. He replies, “$78,400; at least that’s what the last clown cost me.”
Most people know that major politicians, such as candidates running for president, raise tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Often, people running for lesser offices like Congress or seats in the State Legislature also raise in excess of a million dollars, and even campaigns for local office can raise six figures or more in highly populated areas.
It’s worth your time to research who’s giving to candidates and campaigns. Much of the information is publicly available online and can be found on one of the official government websites, depending on the jurisdiction of the campaign.
These websites are not always user-friendly (the most cynical among us may even wonder if that’s by design). Regardless, they are a treasure trove of useful information that taxpayers should know. Are companies, labor unions or organizations with business before the local government or the state also funding candidates, and could that present a conflict of interest?
Most candidates believe they need to raise a lot of money to win and typically spend a lot of time fundraising. This is a reflection of the fact that campaigns are like a major marketing operation. Money is necessary to get the word out.
We can hope that our candidates will decline contributions from individuals or businesses that might not have the most ethical motives, but past experience observing politics certainly teaches us not to be under any illusions that politicians will always do the right thing.
If your fundraising research uncovers some information that concerns you, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. After all, this is not a monarchy where the politicians rule us by birthright. In America, they work for us!
Where to Find More Information
- Federal Elections Committee Campaign Finance Data:
- California Secretary of State Power Search:
- California Secretary of State Cal-Access database search:
- California Fair Political Practices Commission Transparency Portal:
- Your county elections office campaign finance or ethics website
(will be different for every county)
- Your city elections office campaign finance or ethics website
(will be different for every city)