Because voters pay more attention to what legislators say while special interests pay more attention to what legislators do, legislators have learned to loudly signal virtue to voters while quietly doing the unvirtuous bidding of special interests.

That’s due in large part to donation behavior also being asymmetrical, with voters donating infrequently while special interests dribble out frequent donations to keep legislators on a tight leash. Those dribbled-out donations needn’t be large to be influential. During the most recent legislative session in California the average donation received by the chair of a critical committee that oversees $100 billion per year of spending was only $1500. The key is reliability. Legislators know special interests will always be there for them. Historically they have not thought the same of donors focused on the general interest.

That’s why in 2017 we launched GFC Courage Committee to reliably make frequent donations to those who govern in the general interest, and in 2019 we licensed 11 chapters to do the same. The chapters are critical to our mission of encouraging lawmakers to legislate in the general interest and protecting them when they do. Legislators have tough jobs, especially when they seek to legislate in the general interest. Even an Abe Lincoln could not successfully legislate in the general interest in California without reliable support from general-interest donors.

Special-interest donors are always there for legislators. So must be general-interest donors.

Written by

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California

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