Money in Politics

Who builds our local propaganda machine?

Yesterday I talked to a friend of mine in downtown Fullerton about who he will cast his vote for tomorrow. He said that he would be voting for Jan Flory because he didn't want Tony Bushala's "puppets" sitting on the city council.

The city of Fullerton, not just the city council or even the city government, but the city as a whole is on the verge of a major turning point in its development. The sentiments expressed above by a close friend of mine are not unusual. They can be heard all around the city from all the different groups, political parties and professional associations. 

My friend described the logic he was using in this way: "Tony Bushala is a businessman. If he invested that much money [something over $100,000] he expects to benefit from it. Do you think he would have invested that much money without getting something out of it?"

That was his logic. He clarified it for me. "Kiger and Whitaker will take opposing views on some subjects. They have to do that to make themselves look like they are independent. But on important issues they will do whatever Tony tells them." How does Bushala exert such influence over these two educated adult men? "Because he put them on the council, and he is a businessman" my friend tells me. 

What makes this so astonishing is that my friend is a businessman in Fullerton. One of his employees who sat and discussed this with us openly disagrees with him. I am a client of my friend and he is a client of mine. We disagree. I don't feel any need to agree with his politics. We judge our business dealings on the basis of business benefit.

The idea that private benefit is bad is a "meme" that has been threading its way through many local conversations. Similar accusations were leveled against Ron Thomas, saying that he has only been showing up to city council meetings for a year, bearing the ridicule, and re-experiencing the circumstances of his son's death, because he is only cares about the money from the lawsuit.

The idea was also addressed in a letter to the editors of Fullerton's Future blog by local educator Jonathan Taylor:

It is an unfortunate simplification of reality and it leads to unfortunate results. The idea is that if you are a businessman and you spend money on an election, or if you are a grieving father and might be awarded a civil judgment, then you are only doing it for yourself. From there, no matter what you are doing, and no matter how much what you are doing benefits others and the city as a whole, what you are doing is bad.

Without Tony Bushala's financial support it is doubtful that the recall would have been successfull. My friend implicitly admits this when he says, "He put them [the new councilmembers] on the council". Why would Bushala, a businessman, invest all that money if the recall was going to happen anyway?

Because it wasn't going to happen anyway. It is not easy to find people with enough free time to stand out in front of Ralphs weekend after weekend getting people to sign petitions. It costs money. Political expression, even in this day of the almost free internet, costs money. 

The "Recall No" group spent a LOT of money too. They had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The "Recall No" group flooded our mailboxes with propaganda just like the recall group was able to do with the help of Tony Bushala's money. Without Tony Bushala's money, and politically oriented website, it is doubtful that anything would have changed in city politics. 

It takes a lot of work to get the news out about why Kelly Thomas should not have been beaten to death by six Fullerton police officers. While some people recognize the violation of rights as soon as they see the video, while some people wanted to know more as soon as they heard the story, many people voiced their worries about how such news would affect business, or the civility of local politics. 

Leaders on the left side of politics, such as current city council member Doug Chaffee, were noticeably silent. This was pointed out by several articles by Steven Baxter on The Fullertonian and on Fullerton's Future blogs:

The three recalled city council members and their supporters were Rebpublican. US Representative Ed Royce was noticably silent on the issue. 

Both political wings were silent. But individuals from both wings spoke out, as pointed out in this insightful letter to Fullerton's Future blog by local educator Jonathan Taylor:

Professor Taylor also points a finger at the fallacy of the Bushala money meme. 

"The falsehood is that because businessman and blogger Tony Bushala has funded much of the recall effort out of his own pocket, that somehow “Fullerton is for sale” and that Bushala stands to make a sizeable fortune out of this investment."   --Jonathan Taylor

How will Fullerton ever overcome its political lethargy and inertia if it vilifies political opponents who invest their own money and time? What would have happened if Kelly Thomas's father had not been as devoted to the memory of his son as Ron Thomas has been? Would the officers who are now on trial for murder still be policing our streets? Would they still have legal authority over us all in any enforcement situation? What if Tony Bushala had been more businesslike with his money and his time and devoted all his efforts to seeking profit instead of rooting the corruption out of city hall? 

So is it enough to say that Bushala may also benefit from a less lethargic and opaque city hall? Is that enough to judge what he has done as bad?

What message does Fullerton send to any other civic minded philanthropist who wants to help us scour our political institutions of any dust, corrosion and lethargy? What message do we send to any innovator who wants to promote transparency in government and restore our justice system to the consent of the governed? 

Are we saying, "We don't need your money! We don't need your effort! We don't need your support! Let our career politicians and police unions decide who runs city politics!"

Are we sure that is the message we want to send? This is the choice you will be making on Tuesday.


Reason Magazine recently pointed at Fullerton in an article about another way our city politics may have become captured by vested interest in the status quo:

Alternate View of the Verdict Protests

An inside look at the Kelly Thomas verdict protests. While the mainstream media reports that the protests "turned violent", the truth is more interesting. (photos by Ed Carrasco)

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Tonight's City Council Preview

Restrictions on selling your car, and more low-income housing are on the agenda this evening.

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