Calls to Action: Citizens

Sustaining Political Power

Three years ago, a California businessman/philanthropist who had spent $19 million to help elect charter-school-friendly state legislators asked me why so many of those he had helped to elect had joined in passing anti-charter legislation. I responded that they couldn’t count on him to be there for them. When it comes to political power, reliability beats wealth. Just ask former state official John Chiang, who during a recent forum said that politicians “make calculations about which interests will be there for them through thick and thin . . . cycle to cycle,” or former US Senator John Kerry, who once told me legislators favor interests who “are always there” for them.

You can’t blame legislators for seeking reliable supporters. Their jobs are tough, requiring not only constant elections but also constant jockeying for power inside the Capitol. That’s why big-but-unpredictable donors usually end up with less political power than smaller-but-predictable opponents who know not only that persistence matters as much or more than purse but also that elections are just one step on the path to political power.