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January 23, 2013

The Case of Lady Gaga and California Political Fundraising

Jessica Levinson Summary Judgments Blog.jpgBy Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson

Wondering if legislators ever go back to their offices and "just dance?" Don't think your elected officials have a "poker face?" Dubious as to whether your lawmakers were "born this way?" Curious as to whether, just like us, our lawmakers sometimes have a "bad romance?"

We may not know the answer to those questions, but we do know that State Senators Ricardo Lara and Ron Calderon were at Staples Center this past weekend to take in a Lady Gage concert. Is this official business?

Well, it's officially a fundraising event for them. Lara is running for re-election to the Senate and Calderon is running for state controller next year. The two democratic senators were slated to hold a joint campaign fundraiser at the concert. Contributors who gave $3,900 were rewarded with a ticket to the concert and a night in a nearby hotel.

Lara and Calderon's joint fundraiser at Lady Gaga's concert likely says less about their devotion (or lack thereof) to the performer than it does about their desire to raise large campaign donations at popular venues. In our current system, in which campaign contributions to candidates are limited, but expenditures by candidate campaigns are not, the third for campaign funds is all but unquenchable. Put another way, once candidates get on the fundraising treadmill, it is difficult to see when and how they will ever get off that treadmill.

The seemingly endless fundraising race is not, of course, the fault of the candidates and officeholders. The current legal framework breeds the almost ceaseless need for campaign cash. This actually harms not only the public, but also officeholders who spend so much of their time fundraising rather than legislating or governing.

Here is hoping that Lady Gaga's next hit is about that sexy topic we call "political reform."

This post originally appeared on KCET-TV's SoCal Focus blog, for which the author writes regularly.