There's an old joke out there about forcing politicians to wear Nascar uniforms that tell us who their corporate sponsors are. I can't seem to trace it back to its origin, but I assume it was an email forward from someone's uncle. Now, it's looking conceivable that that joke could soon be a non-humorous, actual thing, legally required in the State of California.
"I wish I could claim that this was original to me, but it's not," businessman John Cox told VICE in an interview. Cox is behind a proposed 2016 California ballot initiative pushing to make the sticker plan a reality. "Some people told me that it was either Bill Maher or Robin Williams who suggested it in a standup routine. So it's been out there as an idea, and we're adopting it."
While the idea is still nothing more than an idea, California just might be the right place to try it out. As one of the top three states in terms of number of ballot measures created to produce new laws (The other two are Colorado and Oregon), the 2016 California ballot is expected to be freakishly overstuffed this November. Steve Maviglio, a campaign strategist, told the LA Times in November of 2015 that the California ballot is going to "look like the Encyclopedia Brittanica."
A mockup of California Governor Jerry Brown
If you can get get 365,000 valid signatures your issue goes on the ballot. It's not as though getting one percent of the entire population of California to endorse your idea is easy or anything, but if you've got some money burning a hole in your pocket, and the desire to change something politically, it's doable.
Cox seems to fit the bill. He's an investment manager and a self-identified "Jack Kemp Republican." He hasn't held political office, but he was once president of the Cook County, Illinois Republican Party. "I've run for office in Illinois unsuccessfully several times," he said, before becoming disillusioned and seeking change by other means.
But precisely what is the change he has in mind?
"This initiative will require every state legislator to wear on his coat, stickers, or some kind of logo representing their top ten contributors," Cox explained. Even if not an actual sports coat, the logos must be worn on the legislator's person. "It can't be a sign that they hold up."
Cox says he aims to do something about politics and money, even if the sticker plan fails, because he sees it as the bipartisan political issue du jour. "Trump, Sanders—everybody Identifies the problem. The issue is, what is the best solution?"
The issue of money in politics has been front-and-center during this recent presidential election. On one hand, funding—like poll numbers—gets covered horse race-style: We all know Jeb Bush is the best-funded Republican, Trump is theoretically self-funded, and Sanders and Clinton show that Democrats can have impressively-stuffed campaign coffers too. Meanwhile, even candidates other than Sanders and Trump, including Hillary Clinton have at least paid lip service to the idea of limiting campaign funds.
Cox and his "California is Not for Sale" campaign began holding press events back in November of 2015. At each event all 120 members of the California Legislature were rendered as life-size cardboard cutouts, standing around plastered with the logos of corporations, as well as interest groups and unions.
"It's funny and it's inventive, but it really is a serious proposal," Cox insisted. However, it's expressly a way to ridicule America's broken campaign finance system, and is not meant to be a quick, at-a-glance method for telling what a politician's interests are.
"I'd like to tell you that we're doing this so that people can make good judgments about is this a good guy or a bad guy?" he said, "but that's really not part of our motivation."
"To us, the whole system is the bad guy," he added.
Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.