“Mothers don’t let your children grow up to be cowboys, let them be doctors and
lawyers and such…….”
And certainly not politicians (with all due respect to Willie Nelson).
Why am I writing this article at this time? Just a day before what is perceived to be historic mid term elections (maybe) or a Blue wave (or a drip from a faucet)?
The answer is relatively simple, I wanted to write about my frontline observations without being influenced by the outcome, not being labeled as a sore loser or less than gracious winner or whatever. I wanted to express my thoughts without being tainted by the natural feelings, which arise from the result.
Now why the title?
The story I am about to share could be Irvine or Costa Mesa or Santa Ana or any large city in the OC (though people who read this article will recognize that smaller towns are not immune.)
Now coming from a trial lawyer and a theatre background I will organize my thoughts as if I were sketching the outline of a play.
My daughter Ashleigh Aitken. Mother of three children, Girl Scout leader, lawyer, former federal prosecutor, engaged community leader, bar president, chair of the fair board etc. In other words an under achiever. Has this idea she could be the first female Mayor of Anaheim.
The Resort District of Anaheim. I will get back to them.
The City of Anaheim. Multi cultural with wide swings of income and living conditions.
The Mail Box: the device used to deceive voters or at least confuse them. Often harmless and useful during a non-political season.
ANAHEIM. 10th largest city in California, largest in Orange County. Home to approximately 400,000 people, Home to Disneyland (My wife Bette and I arrived from different parts of the country as young kids in 1955, the year Uncle Walt opened Disneyland, Home to the Anaheim Angels (couldn’t help it) and the “Resort District”. The Resort District, the home of the myopic Chamber of Commerce and the multi Million dollar Hotel owners contained therein (which by the way initially made more money than Uncle Walt, which is why the Disney Company years later bought all the land around Disney World).
And then there is the rest of us.
Idealistic daughter wants to give back. She knows the main issues we are struggling with are Homelessness, Affordable Housing, Public safety (she had worked with the FBI and local police as a Federal prosecutor ). Loves the city she grew up in. Her father says you are clearly qualified but that gets you half way to being elected, the next half is brutal. Her father is somewhat more cynical.
Enter Disneyland and the large hotel owners, who spend well over two million dollars to attempt to elect their choices for mayor and council (Does anyone remember the villain “Oil Can Harry” from the early melodramas?)
THE ISSUES AND PROCESS
The issues are whether the resort district driving the city to success or ruin for most of the city?
Legitimate issue to discuss.
Are the few hotel owners who have received millions in city subsidies and tax giveaways creating real jobs or at the public trough.
There are a host of other issues as all cities with legitimate differences of opinion.
The process is what is scary. More scary, by far than Knott’s Scary Farm and probably without a solution. After all corporations are “persons”with the unlimited right to spend money to influence elections in the name of free speech.
There is The Mail Box: how could a mailbox be a villain?
The favorite toy of manipulative political consultants. It can come alive.
Example: Just today while working on this article I received six pieces of political mail which illustrate how the game is played. They all were sent out simultaneously by the group of hotel owners who are supporters of Harry Sidhu, another candidate for Mayor. They always choose a fancy name like Citizens for Anaheim’s Future. Three tout a minor candidate who has no resources and who is running against Sidhu.
Now why would they do that?
They tout her as a woman Democrat. Her only role is to draw votes from Ashleigh Aitken to enhance Oil Can’s chances and down play the fact that Ashleigh is the officially endorsed Candidate. One of the mailers is misrepresented as a Democrat Voters Guide from the Anaheim Hills Democrat Club but no such club exists. Who do they endorse? Sidhu, who self describes himself in his literature as a conservative Republican. The other two pieces are attacks on Ashleigh Aitken based on facts, which are undeniably false.
Not a bad days work.
What is Dark Money?
It’s the money, which finances the deception outlined above.
Though most people would suggest I am not naive as it comes to politics, most of my personal involvement had been at the state or national level where you have at least some checks and balances through media coverage, newspapers, TV and radio in the like. At the local level, beyond neighbor to neighbor which is challenging in a town the size of Anaheim unless you have that over two million dollars you can’t do TV or radio and the clutter of the congressional races etc. would render them weak in any event.
So what is the Game plan?
The Resort District forms PACS with cute little names and supports candidates in each of the Districts who march to their tune. Let me state the issue simply. Could anyone reading this article truly believe a city council candidate who gets their share of the over a million and half dollars donated by Disney is not a sure vote for them and the hotel owners and their agenda who have raised more than a million? We are talking $300,000 a piece. These are allegedly smart business owners. They know how to invest.
But what if their message doesn’t resonate on the merits?
They are forced to go to attacks on the character of a candidate. How do they move this money into the city, which has campaign limits of $2,000 per person? They give money to PACS and give them fancy names like your neighborhood association or SOAR or the Hotel and Lodging association or even phony political party groups that don’t even exist.
Why don’t we know who is really behind these groups?
Because we have a law that says if you give $50,000 you have to be identified on the mailer so all these business interests hide themselves by deliberately giving only $49,500.
That’s the Dark Money.
In other words they use political operatives with no character and who are never identified to the citizens in Anaheim to attack the candidates who have character who hopefully survive these vicious personal attacks.
Hopefully the voters will see through all of this but it won’t be easy for them and so often the truth comes out after the election.
Are you depressed yet?
I could get depressed just writing this story. Most of these stories have a happy ending. Hard work and knocking on doors and tirelessly getting out your message leads to success, which is what the polls suggest in our race.
But not always…
Many fail or these operatives would not be hired and don’t expect to see any in the unemployment line soon. And we can’t lose faith that the voters themselves will see through this tangled web. Or maybe I am naive.
Why can’t we say enough is enough at the local level as a starting point?
There used to be bipartisan citizens groups that could hold hearings into unethical practices. Business speech gets reeled in as we enact truth in lending and truth in advertising yet there should be a path for political speech.
The courts shy away, heaven knows they get enough criticism but there needs be some type of simple remedies beyond lengthy slander actions.
Everybody seems to have a fascination with warning labels.
How about, Mail Boxes can be hazardous to your health.
Carefully read the material and investigate its accuracy, If the user doesn’t have time to do that please immediately throw them away. Do not pass go and do not collect $200.
In the final analysis it is the lack of transparency, which is at the root of the problem.
If you have the courage to lie then you should have the courage to identify your self.
Wylie Aitken is a nationally recognized attorney, chairs the Chapman University Board of Trustees and also serves as the board chairman for Voice of OC.