Sunday morning coming down in Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Jesse knew a lot about the cleanest dirty shirt.

Money is the mother’s milk of politics.
Jesse Unruh, most powerful assembly speaker in California history

Money, the kind that pays for increasingly expensive California legislative campaigns, is what gives Sacramento lobbyists power when ideas and ideals run out of steam. Voters remember the big and simple issues – say, whether to raise taxes or give hybrid cars a free pass in diamond lanes – but it’s lobbyists who meticulously track every vote on the small and complex bills that comprise the daily toil at the state capitol.

Subsidies for improving broadband service in places ignored by big cable and telephone companies are irrelevant to most Californian voters. The immediate benefit mostly goes to sparsely populated areas with few votes and even less cash. But it matters a lot to cable and telephone companies that want to extract the greatest profit possible out of ageing copper networks. In rural and inner city areas, no broadband construction subsidies equals no competition.

I mean that as an observation of natural economic consequences and not as criticism. Within ethical limits, corporations have an iron clad obligation to provide the greatest possible return on investment to their shareholders. They aren’t paid to pursue effective or equitable public policy. That job belongs to our elected representatives.

The California cable lobby has stopped opposing senate bill 740, which would add money to the California Advanced Services Fund, but it has pointedly said it is “neutral”. Which means it won’t try to punish committee members who vote in favor of it, but it won’t look particularly kindly on them either, come fundraising time.

Five members of the assembly utilities and commerce committee voted aye on SB 740 last month and three voted no. One way or the other, they took a stand. Seven members sat silent, allowing the bill to fail without upsetting either potential industry campaign contributors or constituents who might care about the outcome. SB 740 comes up for reconsideration in the assembly utilities and commerce committee on Monday. Those seven have a chance to show whether they live up to Jesse Unruh’s standard for Sacramento lawmakers:

If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you have no business being up here.