Saturday, August 28, 2010




The sad reality about the political commercials now crowding California’s airwaves is that they are, de facto, not subject to the same truth in advertising rules that govern ads for, say, cars or computers, laser eye treatments, weight loss programs or plastic surgery.

Candidates can say whatever they want, sometimes totally contradicting facts and suddenly taking positions 180 degrees different from their past stances, usually called a flip-flop.

They hope voters won’t notice the lies and punish the liars. And even though political ads are covered by the same laws as other paid messages, campaigns are so short the damage is almost always done before anyone can protest, let alone see a lawsuit through the lugubrious legal process.

With more money than ever spent on political ads whose purpose often is to paper over candidates’ awkward situations, lies or past statements, it’s vital to track what’s true or false in both campaign commercials and candidate statements.

So this column asked both the Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman gubernatorial campaigns for lists of the other’s top ten lies and flip-flops.

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford responded with not 10 but 19 of what he calls “lies Meg Whitman told.”

“One of the more amazing whoppers,” Clifford said, was about how long she’s lived in California. He cited a Whitman ad saying, “…the state is in the worst shape that I’ve seen in the 30 years that I have lived in California.” The ad was quickly changed after newspapers reported that Whitman lived in Massachusetts and Michigan through most of the 1990s. She hasn’t been here even close to 30 years.

The Brown spokesman also claimed Whitman “lied about her connections to Goldman Sachs,” the scandal-plagued Wall Street banking firm that was a key player in the financial collapse leading to the current recession.

“In her book, Whitman wrote that she had ‘nothing but the highest regard for Goldman Sachs’ leadership and integrity,’” Clifford noted. This, he suggested, may explain why she remains a multi-million dollar client of the firm and happily took an appointment to its board of directors. During the campaign, however, she’s said her time on that board “wasn’t a good fit.” She departed the board the very day federal authorities cracked down on some investment tactics the firm used on her behalf.

Whitman’s campaign, rather than listing a single Brown untruth or flip-flop, provided a list of what it called “Brown’s biggest failures.” These, Whitman spokesman Sarah Pompei said, include his initial opposition to the 1978 Proposition 13 property tax cuts, voted in while he was governor, and “the fact that Oakland’s public schools failed while he was mayor,” then were taken over by the state. Local newspapers, however, report Brown often contended with local school board members during his time as mayor and had no control over their failures.

The Whitman list also includes Brown’s appointment of Rose Bird as chief justice of the California Supreme Court during the 1970s and his loss of a 1982 run for the U.S. Senate.

Some might call these items failures, but there’s nary a lie or flip-flop among them, other than possibly his working diligently to enforce Proposition 13 after it passed over his opposition.

“These items contradict much of what he’s saying now,” said Pompei.

So Whitman’s campaign listed no falsehoods from Brown. Her campaign didn’t mention what some others have called a switch of sorts – the fact that even though it was Brown who first allowed public employee unions strong bargaining rights, he now proposes to cut back on pension gains they have won since then.

Brown calls this change a recognition of today’s realities and notes the tough negotiating he did with public employee unions in Oakland.

His campaign suggests Whitman has lied regularly about more than her own residence, financial choices and voting record.

“Not only did Meg Whitman lie about the Mexican border fence in her ads, but she lied about what was in her ads,” Clifford said, noting Whitman’s statement that “You haven’t an ad from me with the border fence in it.” Yet the fence was prominently featured in at least one of her commercials.

Perhaps more important, Brown’s campaign charges Whitman lied about her stance on offshore oil drilling, an issue that will quickly confront the next governor. She told reporters she has “historically been against drilling.” But in 2009, she told a newspaper she supported drilling in the Tranquillon Ridge portion of the Santa Barbara Channel.

The Brown campaign lists 14 more of what it says are lies Whitman has told since Jan. 1.

The bottom line: Whitman’s campaign and commercials claim Brown’s entire career has been a flop, even if it’s not a flip-flop, while his operatives note a score of specific untruths and contradictions from her, not including her initial refusal to admit she physically abused an eBay employee, causing the company to pay a $200,000 settlement.

Voters need to know all these things and more to decide who might be their most trustworthy governor.

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is




No group is so hated by the many Americans who resent illegal immigration as so-called “anchor babies” born in the United States to illegal immigrant women.

They’re not reviled for anything they’ve done, but because of their parents’ actions and the services they might eventually get. And because once they’re born, it can be more difficult to deport their parents.

“There is an orchestrated effort by (the parents) to come here and have children to gain access to the great welfare state we’ve created,” maintains Arizona Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, author of his state’s landmark SB 1070, the law that seeks to compel that police demand documents of anyone they deal with who might possibly be in America illegally.

Added Frosty Wooldridge, writing on the Web site of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, “Maternity tourism is just the beginning of the silliness of birthright citizenship that goes to the babies of foreign students…and the millions who break the law to criminally enter this country.”

But any state bill denying birthright citizenship to anyone born in this country will most likely end up on the legal scrapheap because the idea flies in the face of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which since 1868 has conferred citizenship on birth to anyone born here.

This has led major Republican politicians like South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham and House Minority Leader John Boehner to call for hearings on changing the 14th Amendment.

Anti-birthright advocates contend accurately the amendment was designed to assure citizenship and equal rights to former slaves. But its language is not so limited.

The anti-birthright forces also say “anchor babies” contribute little and cost a lot, from hospital expenses at the start through public schooling and much more. They’ve claimed the 14th amendment invites both “maternity tourism” and the creation of “terror babies,” children allegedly bred to commit acts of terror on this country, their future access guaranteed by their status as citizens.

The problem with all these claims is that they run counter to most known facts about “anchor babies.” Infants born to undocumented mothers account for about 8 percent of all U.S. births, but no one knows how many of their fathers might have legal status, according to a new study from the Pew Hispanic Center. More than 80 percent of those new mothers had been in this country at least one year, with more than half here at least three years and a large but unspecified percentage here 10 years or more. Not exactly tourists, so if there is maternity tourism, it can’t be widespread.

What’s more, immigrant advocates say, plenty of so-called anchor babies grow up to be major contributors to American life. “Many children born here of persons who are not legal residents become leading citizens when they grow up,” said Margaret Stock, a West Point professor, lawyer and retired military police colonel, also a frequent expert witness in immigration cases. As a classic example, she cites Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, sometimes touted as a possible Republican presidential candidate. “Gov. Jindal’s mother was here on a student visa when he was born.”

Anyone born in that circumstance would be denied citizenship under a proposed federal Birthright Citizenship Act, first introduced in Congress last year by the recently-resigned Republican Rep. Nathan Deal, now running for governor of Georgia. It would limit automatic citizenship to babies with at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, a legal permanent resident (green card holder) or a foreign citizen on active military duty in the U.S. armed forces.

That could cause myriad problems, say immigrant advocates. For one thing, it would mean that every new parent would have to produce a birth certificate of his or her own to get citizenship for a newborn. If none could be found, the infant would have to apply for what is called “derivative citizenship.”

“That process is very complex and fraught with error and passing a law like this would necessitate setting up a new bureaucracy at great expense,” Bill Ong Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, told a press conference the other day. “More important, though, is that these kids are to a large extent our future.”

His implied question: Do we really want to make these people hate America from the very beginning of their lives?

Then there’s the fact that no one has proven “maternity tourism” or having “anchor babies” is a main cause of illegal immigration. “The anti-illegal immigration people are using this right now to keep people riled up even as actual border crossings are at their lowest point in decades and steadily dropping,” said Stock.

It’s true: the southern border has become less permeable under President Obama than under any other recent president.

All of which makes talk of “anchor babies” little more than pure political claptrap, designed to swing votes rightward in this midterm election year.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Sunday, August 22, 2010




Back in 1978, Tom Quinn, campaign manager of Jerry Brown’s two previous runs for governor, observed that “It doesn’t matter what you say or do before January 1 of an election year, because the voters will never remember.”

In those days long before the Internet and the seemingly ubiquitous YouTube videos it so often features, candidates often got away with saying something to an audience in one place and quite the opposite to another group elsewhere.

It’s been awhile since anyone seriously tried testing these things, but Brown’s big-spending Republican rival Meg Whitman frequently seems to be attempting to prove they’re both still possible.

That’s the best way to understand the conflicting messages she’s purveyed since the June primary election via millions of dollars worth of television and radio advertising aimed primarily at Hispanic voters, including many, many commercials aired on the Spanish-language Univision television network during its highly-rated World Cup soccer broadcasts.

There is no doubt about the conflicting messages. In one of her Spanish-language ads, Whitman says “The Latino kids attending public schools in California today will be tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, businessmen and teachers. I want them to have the opportunity to go as far in life as their God-given talent will take them.”

Unless, notes Democratic Party communications director Tenoch Flores, “their hard work and talent take them to a California institution of higher learning.” If they make it there and their parents are illegal immigrants (regardless of the kids’ own status), Whitman’s policy statements say they shouldn’t be allowed to stay long. In the spring primary, she said such “Latino kids” should be banned or removed from community colleges and the Cal State and University of California systems. Will Latinos remember those declarations?

Well aware of polls that show immigration reform and amnesty are the leading political causes today for Hispanic voters regardless of their own immigration or citizenship status, Whitman, has tried to portray herself to Spanish speakers as on their side. Never mind her primary-season ads that proclaimed “No amnesty” when former rival Steve Poizner called her soft on illegals.

Whitman ads claiming she opposes Arizona’s recent landmark anti-illegal immigrant law and also opposed California’s Proposition 187, the court-thwarted 1994 attempt to remove all public services except emergency trauma medical care from illegals, appeared to be working during the summer.

A midsummer Field Poll showed Whitman just 11 points behind Brown among likely Latino voters, trailing only 50-39 percent. It’s a truism of California politics that any Democrat must win by at least a 2-1 margin among Hispanics in order to get elected, and Brown was far short of that.

But he had yet to begin advertising seriously. Once he does, there’s at least the possibility he might jog some Latino memories. Not only with a few quick re-runs of Whitman’s tough-on-illegals springtime commercials, but also with the fact that her campaign chairman is former Gov. Pete Wilson, known as the “father of 187,” the man whose 1994 reelection campaign featured TV spots with illegals crossing the Mexican border which intoned repeatedly, “They keep coming.”

Wilson quickly became anathema among Latinos and ex-President George W. Bush, a Republican who took pride in his appeal to Hispanic voters, spent years assiduously avoiding Wilson for that reason.

When his own commercials begin running, Brown will surely show tape of himself marching in the 1960s and ’70s with Latino legend Cesar Chavez and remind Hispanic voters he spurred creation of the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which enabled scores of union votes among farm workers. Cesar Chavez may be little more than the name of an occasional street to many young Latinos, but if Brown’s spots are good enough, he can make the association work for him.

Brown will also have to point out that Whitman not only didn’t live in California during the Proposition 187 campaign, but had nothing to say at the time about a law she now claims she always opposed.

Still, the question remains whether Brown can overcome the seemingly unlimited tide of advertising Whitman has placed on all Spanish-language electronic media, from TV and radio to the Internet.

Counting on some sort of collective Latino memory won’t be enough, warns longtime Democratic campaign manager Kam Kuwata. “Brown will need to make a major effort to go after those voters,” he said. “Whitman’s ads have hurt him.”

The bottom line: If Quinn’s long-ago theory about short voter memories is correct, maybe Brown won’t be able to win back enough Latinos even after he begins his own ad campaign in September. That could mean a Whitman win.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




When the Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative qualified for the ballot with a yes-or-no due vote in the November election, its passage seemed almost a foregone conclusion.

Tax the approximately $12 billion pot industry in this state and you could collect $1.4 billion toward solving the state’s budget deficit, not to mention helping out cash-strapped local governments.

You would also take hundreds, maybe thousands, of law enforcement officers off the drug beat and allow them to go after “real criminals,” said supporters of legalization.

Since many surveys show that well over 50 percent of adult Californians have puffed a reefer at some time in their lives, you would think passage would be a snap.

But the polls don’t all look that way. In fact, indications are there’s a strong possibility this proposition could fail, just like a similar one did 38 years ago, in 1972.

The usually reliable Field Poll last month found that 48 percent of likely voters opposed legalization, while 44 percent were in favor. That seems like a narrow margin, but ballot propositions that trail several months before an election usually lose. Other recent surveys using live questioners yielded similar results.

And yet, in three automated polls taken at about the same times with questions asked robotically, the measure led by as much as 15 percent. So voters may be lying to the live operators out of some sense of shame.

A six-month study by the nonpartisan Santa Monica-based Rand Drug Policy Research Center released at almost the same time as the poll results gives many clues about why they might feel shame about legalizing pot, even if they eventually vote for it.

The number of pot smokers in California would rise significantly, the study concluded, but no one knows exactly how much because no one knows either what the tax might be on an ounce of cannabis or the level of tax evasion that might ensue.

(Another unknown: Would Republicans who have taken a “no-new-taxes” pledge make an exception for a pot levy?)

For sure, the report says, marijuana prices would drop sharply, just like the price of liquor after Prohibition. An 80 percent drop is a strong possibility, the report said.

This, too, would have tax implications. The estimates of about $1.4 billion in tax revenues after legalization are based on current prices, which often top $300 per ounce.

One more factor with probable heavy tax implications: The proposed new law would allow cannabis cultivation by anyone. It’s unclear whether home gardens could be taxed, or how a tax collector might learn about any individual garden. Also unclear: what drug cartel operators of the many indoor hydroponic farms and large marijuana gardens in California’s national forests might do.

All this, of course, begs the real question about legalization: What damage could it do? This country, as initiative sponsors note, already has more pot smokers than any other, despite current enforcement efforts.

While Proposition 19 specifically allows state and local governments to retain bans on bringing pot to schools or peddling it there and lets them keep laws against driving under its influence, there’s nothing to prevent the kind of general malaise of which the Harvard University Mental Health Letter warned in its April issue.

“The psychiatric risks are well documented,” the journal said. “They include addiction, anxiety and psychosis.”

Just what California needs: More anxious, psychotic pot smokers.

Nobody is quite sure why, but these kinds of fears and questions may be more prevalent among minority voters than whites. The Field survey found that while white likely voters support the measure, it is heavily opposed by Asians, Latinos and African-Americans. Could this be because the drug culture is viewed least romantically by those it damages most?

Field also found women oppose legalization by a 9 percent margin while males are evenly divided.

Did lying by voters who fear being exposed as pro-drug somehow influence the live poll findings? Maybe, but Field poll director Mark DiCamillo has often talked about how he and other pollsters compensate for the inevitable component of lies by responders. But this is no ordinary issue: The results of automated polls like those run by Survey USA suggest that pot may spur far more than the normal amount of prevarication.

The pot initiative is also hurt by its own vagueness: It leaves all regulation up to cities and counties while spelling out very few details. The past is full of inequitable laws enacted to “clarify” what the voters meant after they passed initiatives like the 1978 Proposition 13 property tax cuts and the Proposition 65 clean water initiative of 1986.

All of which makes the fate of Proposition 19 as uncertain as any proposition’s ever has been. For sure, if this one loses, it will not be by nearly as large a margin as the 2-1 defeat suffered by the state’s previous attempt at legalizing marijuana.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Saturday, August 14, 2010




Money has always been crucial in California politics. As far back as the mid-1960s, the legendary Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh called it “the mother’s milk” of his profession.

Unruh was talking about campaign donations from both individuals and businesses. But this year, the role of money has acquired entirely new dimensions.

Yes, self-funded candidates have run in California before, but no primary election race ever saw anything near the $120 million in personal cash spent by former eBay executive Meg Whitman and outgoing state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner on their contest for the Republican nomination to be governor.

And no down-the-ticket race ever saw anything like the $12.5 million former Facebook executive Chris Kelly spent in losing the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

Those private expenditures were different in scale from past ones, but not in type. Putting it crassly, rich people have tried to buy public offices since the early days of this republic.

But it was initiative politics that may have been changed the most by the way money poured into the primary, and who it came from.

Yes, special interests have often tried to run initiatives here. The tobacco industry in 1996 tried to overturn all local laws governing smoking. The insurance industry tried in 1988 to install a no-fault system for car insurance. In 1984, Scientific Games Corp., the Georgia company that still prints and sells instant-winner scratch-off tickets to the California Lottery, funded the initiative that set up the Lottery and instituted rules that almost guaranteed it would always be the main supplier of games and tickets.

But never before last spring’s campaigns for Propositions 16 and 17 had single companies piled tens of millions into campaigns that didn’t even try to disguise their self-serving nature. The blatant quality of the effort to buy themselves new laws set apart the campaigns run by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Mercury Insurance Co. and may even have backfired on the two firms.

Feelingthreatened by city and special district efforts to set up their own electric sales systems, PG&E spent more than $40 million putting its pet measure on the ballot and then trying to pass it. The company aimed to require a two-thirds vote of local residents before any public power system could start. PG&E outspent consumerist opponents by a factor of 1,000-1 while trying to overcome the common tendency to vote against any proposition that seems confusing. The aim was to prevent future dilution of PG&E’s regional power monopoly, since two-thirds votes are so difficult to attain. And PG&E almost won.

At the same time, Mercury Insurance was seeking to increase its market share via Proposition 17, spending more than $1 million to qualify its pet measure for the ballot and another $20 million trying unsuccessfully to pass it. That meant two companies spent more than $60 million on narrow measures that figured to help almost no one else.

Companies have spent far more than that to defeat initiatives they believed would hurt them, the prime example being the $93 million spent by utility companies in 1998, when they crushed a bid to cancel the state’s electric deregulation plan, which later proved disastrous in the energy crisis of 2001 and 2002.

But the $10 million Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens spent on the abortive 2008 Proposition 10, an alternative energy plan that would have lined the coffers of one of his companies, was the previous record for spending by just one company aiming to feather its nest.

All these figures may be surpassed this fall by two more Texas oil interests, the Valero and Tesoro refining companies, which joined to pay for qualifying Proposition 23, a measure to cancel or greatly delay the state’s pioneering anti-greenhouse gas law, passed in 2006 as AB32. What’s in this for them? Neither company wants to invest in the upgrades to refining operations that would be needed to comply with AB32’s requirement for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by the end of this decade.

While PG&E and Mercury had the TV commercial field pretty much to themselves last spring, Valero and Tesoro and their in-state political mouthpieces will have considerable opposition from green power developers and other environmental outfits. Plus, they must deal with confusion stemming from the fact it will take a yes vote on the measure to nix AB32

This combination of factors may push the oil companies to outspend even PG&E and Mercury.

If that happens, it will once again be up to voters to see through the companies' self-serving slogans. If they don’t, this year might see a reversal of the longtime and very healthy tendency by California voters to turn thumbs down on measures that chiefly benefit just one company or one industry.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




“Robbing Hoods,” one newspaper editor called the state legislators who voted last year to take $1.7 billion from city redevelopment agencies around the state and apply the funds to education.

That editor’s local RDA was forced to fork over $2.5 million during the spring as its share of the assessment.

The Poway RDA in San Diego County had to pony up $13.7 million and was unhappy enough to write the check under protest. Howls, in fact, came from all over California, where redevelopment officials griped that their money would not really go to schools, but in fact would go to the state’s general fund.

“This is not new money for the schools,” Jim Taubert, executive director of the Madera Redevelopment Agency, a lead plaintiff last year when the RDAs fought off a similar confiscation of some of their money, complained to a reporter. “(Schools) are just having redevelopment agencies pay for what they should have gotten from the state.”

That may literally be true, as the RDA checks were used to repay general fund money that had already been paid out to education. But the essence is that the funds have gone to schools.

TheRDAprotests have now evolved into Proposition 22, a November ballot proposition that would prohibit the state from “shifting, taking, borrowing or restricting the use of” tax money previously dedicated to local government services, redevelopment projects or transportation.

Many RDA boards are made up of the same persons who sit on city councils, so they are actually an arm of city government. They buy up older buildings and vacant property, then finance putting up new housing complexes and shopping malls on the land.

While opting to take money from the RDAs, legislators well knew the move could cost thousands of construction jobs by delaying development of housing, shopping malls and office buildings. What’s more, the confiscation made sure some areas designated as blighted would stay that way, as much of the construction done with RDA funds is in such places.

But legislators were in a tough spot: Looking at a $16 billion budget deficit last year, they knew that without the RDA funds, they would have to raise taxes in order to give schools the money to which they’re entitled under state law. But new taxes were not going to happen because of the two-thirds majority vote needed to OK any new levy and the fact that Republicans in the Legislature adamantly refuse to vote for any new tax, ever.

So it was either renege on the state’s obligation to schools or take money from agencies that build low-income housing and other developments badly needed in many cities.

That’s a classic Hobson’s choice where whatever decision legislators made was going to harm some valid, major public interest.

The state taking will unquestionably mean delays of projects that were set to begin in the next year or two and thus contribute to continued high unemployment.

But the other choice, underfunding schools which have already increased class sizes and cut days off their academic years, would have meant layoffs for thousands of teachers, diminished course offerings, fewer school libraries, counselors and nurses and a reduction in extracurricular activities like sports and drama.

No one wants to face a choice like that, especially Democratic lawmakers who usually rank both schools and union workers among their highest priorities.

But when money is short, people face uncomfortable choices, whether in a family where the main provider has lost a job, or in politics where making the wrong choice can get an officeholder thrown out.

Cities and RDAs, though, complain that the money the state took never came from the state in the first place. It stems from tax increment financing, where redeveloped properties that once were blighted are taxed at significantly higher levels than in their previous run-down incarnations.

The money is local, the cities maintain, and so it ought to stay home. They won with that claim in their 2009 lawsuit, but got a very different ruling when they made a similar assertion this year.

Even with the redevelopment agencies’ money, schools all over the state can only avert drastic cuts when they convince local voters to OK parcel taxes whose every nickel stays in the district where it was raised.

When educators forced to make those cuts look across town and see millions of dollars in the coffers of redevelopment agencies, many salivate. And they let legislators know that unless they get some of that money they’ll sic teachers unions, PTAs and other education activists on lawmakers who don’t cooperate.

RDAs and their supporters consider this banditry. But it’s not. Rather, it is politics in hard times when tough choices are forced on almost everyone in public office. Proposition 22 is likewise hardball politics, and we’ll know in November which side is stronger.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Saturday, August 7, 2010




So-called reformers have suggested plenty of big steps to change or improve California's ballot initiative process, which now lets almost any person, company or interest group willing to put up $1 million or so place anything it likes on the statewide ballot.

These propositions often are couched in the most populist, consumerist terms, when in reality they’d do nothing but feather the nests of the paying sponsors. Classic examples from the June primary election were Propositions 16 and 17, one funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the other by Mercury Insurance Co.

Sometimes voters see through these subterfuges as they did in June; sometimes they don’t.

Ideas for reforming the process have ranged from requiring the state Legislature to review all pending propositions and offer alternatives that the sponsors might accept as a substitute to raising the number of voter signatures needed for putting an initiative on the ballot to a ban on hiring petition circulators not registered to vote in California.

Another idea – itself included in a defeated “political reform” initiative – would have forced initiative sponsors to include the names of their five largest campaign contributors as a “crawl” in all their television commercials, in type as large as the largest type elsewhere in the ad.

Some of these notions have merit; some don’t. So far, none has gotten anywhere. It would take a ballot proposition to let legislators vet initiative ideas, and it’s certain that virtually all special interests would pump many millions of dollars into an effort to stop any measure that included this idea.

Courts struck down a tentatively passed bill requiring that all petition circulators be in-state residents. And voters rejected large-type TV commercial crawls.

But the self-described reformers – some call their efforts tinkering – press on. The latest proposal, which passed the state Senate in late May, has a lot of merit and just might stand up to the court scrutiny it would inevitably receive if passed.

This one would let persons accosted by petition circulators on their way into or out of places like big box stores, supermarkets, theaters or shopping malls know whether the person asking them to sign is a real believer in the measure being promoted or just a hired hand.

The vast majority of today’s petition circulators are in fact paid, with compensation often ranging from 50 cents to more than $2 per valid voter signature gathered. Those bounties are the reason circulators often carry more than one petition and ask voters to sign on multiple dotted lines.

The Senate-approved bill would force paid circulators to wear badges saying “Paid Signature Gatherer.” The badge would also show where they are registered to vote, so folks they accost could know whether they actually have a stake in what they’re promoting. If the circulator isn’t registered to vote, the badge would also have to say that.

This wouldn’t be much, and it’s entirely possible that some court somewhere would rule the requirement that circulators say from where they hail is a restraint of trade. But the essence of this measure is to let voters know when the person approaching them is doing it for money or ideals.

If that makes it take longer for circulators to gather the hundreds of thousands of names needed to put any proposed law on the ballot, so much the better.

That would be a step toward leveling the initiative playing field, where monied interests now have a big advantage over groups with idealistic or ideological reasons for wanting to pass a law. Any measure backed by sufficient funds can hire a circulating firm to carry its petitions, while those that buck the big-money interests usually have to use volunteers.

Anything making life a little harder for paying sponsors would be a step in the right direction. Another good step might be to extend the current 150-day limit to 200 or 250 days, but only for measures that use exclusively volunteer circulators.

Neither badges nor a little bit more time would be enough to solve all the ills big money has brought to the initiative process. But there’s little doubt such changes would be a positive step in the direction of honesty, equity and openness.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown will spend a lot of time this fall blasting each other for flip-flops, alleged lying and lack of specificity. There will be talk about illegal immigration, how to balance the state budget and what to do about greenhouse gases and climate change.

But the issue most likely to decide this election is jobs. Both candidates and their handlers (Whitman has a lot more of those than Brown) plainly know this.

Right in the logo atop Brown’s campaign Web site is the line “Let’s Get California Working again.” Meanwhile, Whitman has devoted much of her two slick-paper magazine-style campaign brochures (perhaps the most expensive, elaborate and wide-distributed pamphlets in history) to her ideas for putting more Californians to work.

The Whitman ideas can be summed up in two words: “trickle down.”

Her economic proposals, summed up during several recent campaign stops, amount to the same formula Republican candidates have pushed since Ronald Reagan’s first term as President: Cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, streamline regulations and you will produce many thousands of new jobs, plus vastly increased tax revenue.

The problem with this is simple: lack of proof. When you give corporations and wealthy individuals tax breaks like elimination of capital gains taxes (a fundament of the Whitman plan), there is no guarantee they will pass the money saved along to the middle class or the poor. In fact, this has never been proven to have happened in human history. The rich tend to stay that way by holding onto their money.

Republicans often cite the fact that employment and tax revenues increased during the last few years of Reagan’s presidency, after almost eight years of his tax cuts. They don’t mention that a major national recession accompanied the first two years of those largest-ever tax cuts, with unemployment both nationwide and in California topping 11 percent, nor do they mention the huge defense buildup in Reagan’s second term, which accompanied the employment increases.

In fact, Whitman’s commercials noting high unemployment near the end of Brown’s second term as governor in 1982 completely ignore that it was part of the national downturn known at the time as “the Reagan recession.”

Which means that while she blasts Brown for not putting forward many job-creating specifics, there is no assurance Whitman’s plan would produce even one new California job.

But Whitman is right about one thing: Much as he touts the record that shows California gained 1.9 million jobs during his earlier tenure in Sacramento, Brown offers little assurance that anything remotely similar would happen if he’s sent back to the governor’s office.

Yes, he touts the idea of a “solar corridor,” a plan very similar to outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “solar rooftops” program, with Brown saying he would put 10 times as many sun-power panels on rooftops than Schwarzenegger has, and would also set up a system of solar-powered car-charging stations along major highways like Interstate 5 and U.S. 101, one way to encourage Californians to buy electric cars and the upcoming crop of plug-in hybrids.

Also, in his current function as state attorney general, Brown has gone to court trying to force the Federal Housing Finance Agency to restart the stalled Property Assessed Clean Energey (PACE) program that provided low-interest loans to homeowners installing solar panels and insulation improvements. Brown essentially claims that cancelling the federal plan amounted to a bait-and-switch on homeowners.

Brown maintains that putting these initiatives together with his call for speeding up the requirement for California electric companies to switch to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal could produce hundreds of thousands of new, “green” jobs over the next few years.

So Brown touts the job-producing potential of an area where Whitman has been wishy-washy. She says she would suspend enforcement of the greenhouse gas-cutting regulations spurred by the 2006 law known as AB32, but has not helped push Proposition 23, a ballot initiative aiming to do the same thing.

One thing for sure. Whether they debate three times, as Whitman has agreed to, or 10 or more times, as Brown has challenged her to do, jobs will be a key issue when these two eventually meet up.

Says longtime Democratic campaign manager Kam Kuwata, for years a top advisor to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, “The voters will decide on the basis of who they think can do the best job at turning the economy around.”

No one yet knows who that will be. And despite their repeated claims to have said a lot on this subject, each will have to become far more specific about it, or risk losing in November.

Elias is author of the current book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," now available in an updated fourth edition. His email address is