Voter-owned elections

What if our elections were “voter-owned,” instead of belonging to Big Money — would that make you feel better about voting?

The good news is that we can have voter-owned elections — if we buckle down and do some serious agitating and organizing at the grassroots level. That’s what a great group of folks in North Carolina has just done, starting with their state courts. Last month a coalition called North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections won the most sweeping judicial reform in our country: a state law providing public financing for candidates to North Carolina’s top two courts.

The judiciary, which holds life-and-death power over us — as well as the power to rule over everything from water quality to job discrimination to privacy — is supposed to be impartial. But in states like North Carolina, where the top judges are elected, such special interests as HMOs, insurance companies, lawyers and corporate polluters have learned that they can buy the partiality of judges by financing their election campaigns.

Fed up with this theft of justice, the clean-election coalition launched a two-year campaign to pass the “Judicial Campaign Reform Act.” Under the new law, court candidates who agree to accept zero special-interest money can get up to $137,000 in public funding for the primary election and up to $600,000 for the general election.

Republican legislators were adamantly opposed to this money-cleansing reform, so the coalition went straight to the people, staging informational meetings and rallying mass support — including winning the backing of 70 percent of Republican voters. The bill passed narrowly in the House, by a wide margin in the Senate, and the governor has signed it — so the voters now own North Carolina’s court elections.

You, too, can push for public financing of elections at any level of state or local government you choose. To learn how, call the Public Campaign: (202) 293-0222.

What’s in a name?

Got chutzpah?

That’s the question of the day, which I’m directing toward the PR huckster who inflicted the ubiquitous “Got Milk?” advertising campaign upon the world. These incessant, mustachioed milk ads were cute when they began running a decade ago, but they’ve grown as tiresome as a telemarketer’s canned phone calls. That hasn’t stopped the ad’s sponsor, the California Milk Processors’ Board, from pushing them to the limit, however … and beyond.

Just to show how garish, intrusive and self-involved advertisers can be, these corporate milk giants are actually trying to promote their own promotion. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “Got Milk?” campaign, they’ve come up with an advertising stunt so tacky it’d make P.T. Barnum blanch. Here’s the gimmick: Jeff Manning, the milk board’s chief huckster, sent a letter to the top officials of two dozen small towns in California, immodestly asking them to change their town’s name to “Got Milk?”

Of course, every small town is strapped for cash these days, so to entice one to switch names, these hucksters waved the one thing they have more of than ethics: money. They cynically promised free computers for the schools, new playgrounds, and — get this — construction of a Got Milk? museum in whatever lucky burg is goofy enough to sell its pride. This milk museum, it was promised, would draw tourists till the cows come home.

One town that’s actually considering this diabolical deal is Biggs, Calif., which was scheduled to discuss it at a Nov. 18 City Council meeting. But Mayor Sharleta Calloway is said to be sour on the idea, and residents are openly ridiculing it. As one pointed out, the Biggs high-school teams are now known as the Wolverines — so would the name switch mean they’ll be called “the Milk Cows and the cheerleaders will wear udders on their heads?”

Even in America, advertising has its limits.

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