Some sharp person running for office in Los Angeles next year ought to try Barack Obama’s style of grassroots politics, raising a lot of money and organizing supporters online.
Such an innovation could dispense with our partial public financing of city campaigns in LA. The partial system requires candidates to also solicit private donations.
With nobody who is anybody running against him, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has a lock on his re-election. But there are contests for L.A. city attorney, controller and for city council and school district seats.
The candidates will go through the time-worn exercise of hitting up the same old business and union hacks for donations, obligating themselves to be forever faithful to the wishes of their benefactors.
Obama did it differently. He raised huge amounts of money on the Internet. And his organizers went on line to put together a grassroots army that swept the field. I know Obama also leaned on rich movie people, investment bankers (when there was such a class) and other wealthy men and women. The hard working folks making phone calls for Obama in Culver City no doubt missed the $28,500 a person Greystone Mansion gathering of the super rich. And the super rich will come calling on the new president for favors. But what distinguished the campaign was the vast number of small contributions, raised online, plus the online organization of volunteers.
It permitted Obama to dispense with public financing. Actually, his system was broader and more reflective of our democracy than public financing.
Last week, I was discussing the past presidential campaign with the staff of the Center for Governmental Studies, the political reform organization which helped devise the present partial public financing system.
Most of the folks in the room were young, idealistic, articulate and technically adept. They reminded me of the Obama campaign. Why couldn’t a young candidate with a dream for LA, and a certain charisma organize such people into a campaign, just as Obama did?
They could use the Internet to raise money, organize the grassroots and communicate with voters. Candidates could turn down partial public financing and could be independent of big contributors and their compromising gifts. Candidates wouldn’t have to beg the increasingly disinterested media for coverage.
Skeptics will say it is impossible because nobody in L.A. cares about local politics. Nobody thought the Obama campaign was possible, either, until he tried.