“The Anaheim Way,” and Real Campaign Finance Reform.

Old-timers in the City of Kindness sometimes, when looking at a project that allegedly “can’t be done” but clearly SHOULD be done or WOULD be great, sometimes they say, “IT’S THE ANAHEIM WAY!” That dates back to the 1960’s when “smart” and cautious people told us we couldn’t build a Convention Center.

The Anaheim Way is BOLD. The Anaheim Way is to do what other cities won’t try, and then when they see us do it they eventually follow. The Anaheim Way is to figure out HOW to solve a problem we have, and then, damn the torpedoes, DO IT.

And the Anaheim Way of Campaign Finance Reform, of putting a real stake through the heart of this town’s corruption, is to apply a Recusal Rule to Independent Expenditures and PACs, which are WAY over 90% of the money that floods into our elections every two years. Any “reform” the Council may propose tonight that doesn’t address the MILLIONS, rather than just the THOUSANDS, of dollars that go to our elections, would be just tinkering around the edges of the Grand Canyon. Re-arranging the Deck Chairs on the Hindenburg. Or treating a Cancer Patient, who needs Chemo, with a few Band-aids.

When we elected Ashleigh, Carlos, and others who spoke of reform, in the wake of Anaheim’s corruption scandals (or should I say in the middle of them) it was not to tinker around the edges, it was to FIX THE DAMN PROBLEM. Which is the obscene amount of money Anaheim’s Special Interests (led by Disney and their front group SOAR) pour into our elections every two years.

Let’s start here: IT SHOULD NOT COST 3/4 OF A MILLION DOLLARS TO RUN FOR, AND WIN, A COUNCIL SEAT REPRESENTING 1/6 of Anaheim. It’s not like that in any other town. The Special Interests spend as much as $100 a vote or more, to get the person THEY trust elected. Your average, independent candidate, who doesn’t want to owe anything to the Special Interests, cannot compete with that. And it is ALL INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES.

We tried to address this problem by fighting, for YEARS, for district elections (which 70% of us wanted, and which our then-Council majority elected by Special Interests spent $3 million of our money fighting AGAINST.) When we got District Elections, in 2016, and the Special Interests lost control for two years, they dealt with that by TRIPLING their campaign spending, and started winning again. And it is ALL INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES.

(Some folks on the Council now, elected with this dark money, swear up and down that they’re honest, vote their consciences, and that this money doesn’t control their votes. And maybe they are sincere about that. But these Special Interests – Disney, hotels, developers, landlords, police & fire, the Angels, other unions – know one way or another that they can be counted on to vote their way. And they’re almost always right. And if they don’t get what they want, they’ll find someone else to run against you next time. And you know it.)

Or, let’s start with this chart:

This is to show you, through a few years of contributions of our biggest Special Interest, Disney, the difference between the Elephant in the Room – I.E.’s – and direct contributions. Yes, if you lean forward and squint, there IS a middle column. That is Disney’s direct contributions. Their real contributions are the I.E.’s on the left, which tower like Everest. If Council takes a Timid Route tonight, they are just dealing with that little blue puddle in the middle, and want you to clap.

Not a Time to Be Timid.

Some on the Council have claimed that ANY kind of reform that deals with Independent Expenditures will be challenged in Court and eventually ruled unconstitutional under the notorious 2010 Supreme Court decision “Citizens United,” which prohibits governments from regulating or limiting or banning Independent Expenditures.

But we would NOT be regulating or limiting or banning Independent Expenditures. With a new recusal rule (maybe extending the new SB 1439) preventing a Councilperson from voting, for a certain amount of time, on a matter benefitting a company, union or person who contributed a certain amount to an I.E. helping their election, we would not be regulating/limiting/banning that contribution – we would just be removing the motivation for these Independent Expenditures.

Council nearly passed this (3-3) last year. OUR CITY ATTORNEY SAID HE COULD DEFEND IT IN COURT, and referenced several OTHER Supreme Court decisions favorable to recusal rules, as well as a lot of scholarly literature saying this is possible. Citizens United prevents LIMITING I.E.’s, but doesn’t give them some untouchable magical Superpower.

Councilman Faessel voted for this reform last year (along with Avelino Valencia and Jose Moreno.) Would Steve Faessel vote for something rash and unconstitutional? I don’t think so! (By the way, Steve said at the time that he analyzed his two successful elections of 2016 and 20, and determined that he still could have won with this law in place. In case that helps convince some of you.)

There’s a good chance we can win this, and MAKE HISTORY as the first City to really do something about the dark money flooding our elections! What is Anaheim known for now? Corruption scandals, police killings, and being dominated by Disneyland. (Yeah, also No Doubt and Van’s Shoes, but I’m talking about NOW.) I think we could all hold our heads high knowing we live in the City that first defeated Big Dark Money and found a way around Citizens United! Anaheim, the Pioneers of Clean Elections!

Worst Case Scenario?

Some on Council, pessimistically, fear that we could lose this noble battle in court. (Let’s give them the courtesy of not assuming they’re happy with the status quo, which has worked for them so far.) They say it could cost us “hundreds of thousands of dollars” if we lose this noble battle in court.

Well, *I* sure don’t want to waste “hundreds of thousands of dollars” unnecessarily! But is this not WORTH THE GAMBLE?

And something to be proud of, win or lose?

  • The Kris Murray Council wasted THREE MILLION of our money putting off the day that we could vote to have district elections, which 70% of us wanted.
  • During those days our Council gave out HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS in subsidies, pleasing their campaign donors greatly.
  • We came this close to giving away our Anaheim Stadium land for at least TENS OF MILLIONS under its value, for the promise of a million dollars in I.E.’s to Harry Sidhu.
  • And we recently spent (WELL spent) $1.5 million on a Corruption Investigation which SHOWS we need to do this.

This dark unregulated campaign money is a problem NATIONWIDE, and when other places see us succeed in bringing it to heel, THE NATION WILL FOLLOW IN OUR FOOTSTEPS.

The City of Kindness, and Clean Elections.


See you all tonight.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.