In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for special
interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.
In 2014, the price we are paying for this misguided decision is the most expensive midterm election in history coupled with record low voter turnout. Either of these trends would be of serious concern; together, they are catastrophic.
The California League of Conservation Voters and California Common Cause are working together to address
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this grave threat to the health of our environment and our democracy.
In California and across the country, we are seeing unprecedented spending by the oil industry and
related corporations in our elections. Groups tied to the energy industry spent more than $270 million
on TV ads in just the final two months of the 2012 election cycle alone.
And this election year, they are on track for even more, with the oil billionaire Koch brothers reported to have spent around $300
million all by themselves.
Americans are paying the price as members of Congress backed by the chemical and oil industries refuse to take
action to protect our health or deal with climate change. Their inaction hits close to home. High levels
of soot and ozone can cause smog in the increasingly higher temperatures of the San Joaquin Valley,
contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
This summer, Time Magazine called Bakersfield “the worst place to breathe in America,” But it’s in close competition with Fresno for the title. Asthma, particularly in children, is prevalent throughout the region, and of Fresno has one of the highest
childhood asthma rates in California — 20% of children ages 5 to 17 are affected — along with
high rates of asthma-related pediatric emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
It’s estimated that $35 million is spent countywide per year for hospital costs for children with asthma.
That’s just the beginning of the price Californians pay for lack of action on polluting emissions. Between
2011 and 2012 alone, 25 of the most extreme weather events nationwide resulted in up to $188 billion
Extreme drought and raging wildfires are just some of the consequences of global climate
change, and we’re seeing all of them right here, right now in California. A study from the University of California at Davis estimated
farm-related drought losses at $1.7 billion this year in California.
The story with the power of the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector is equally dramatic. In
each of the last eight election cycles, FIRE donors dumped more money into federal elections than any
other industry. And FIRE spent over $420 million in the 2014 election cycle to elect their allies.
We all paid a harsh price for big money contributions from Wall Street, which weakened banking rules leading to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. By the end of 2007, a full 25% of foreclosures were in California. Homeowners saw property values decline by $1.2 trillion and more than 500,000 fewer jobs were created.
But the FIRE industry’s clout continues unabated. When the House considered the 2013 bill to weaken banking regulations, co-sponsors of the bill received 16 times the funds from banks than other members. Sadly, the banking industry’s big money contributions bought influence while the sub-
prime mortgage crisis devastated California, and disproportionally hurt Valley residents.
As advocates for a cleaner environment and a better democracy, we know that it’s time to fight the tidal
wave of corrupt cash that is flooding our elections and polluting our democracy. We need solutions that
would combat the influence of big money in politics, raise civic engagement, and amplify the voice of
average Americans. Nursing our democracy back to health should be a bipartisan effort.
In the 114th Congress, we are calling on Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to stand with Valley residents and
support meaningful reform that will curb the influence of special interest money in elections and help
level the playing field for everyday voters to make a difference in our democracy. It is past time for our
elected representatives to put the people before their campaign contributors.