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Photo by Jack GouldTom Umberg is afraid of campaign finance reform—especially the notion that taxpayers should finance elections as a way to avoid corporate control of our nation's democracy. That fear has a name: Santa Ana restaurateur Otto Bade.
Otto Bade, for those who don't know, is a titan of the Latino community, a man whose name is synonymous with Cesar Chavez, Emiliano Zapata and Emilio Estevez. He's Guatemalan and was once arrested for allegedly cheating the city of San Jose out of thousands for a weed-whacking contract—the quintessential Latino, minus a leaf-blower and sombrero.
Last year, Bade unsuccessfully ran against Umberg as his Republican opponent in the 69th Assembly District race. Bade tried to put up a fight, raising $73,523 in donations. That's not chump change, but it's just 6 percent of what Umberg raised: $1,084,568.73.
On April 25, Umberg, who is chairman of the Assembly's Elections and Redistricting Committee, postponed the vote on a bill that seeks to publicly finance elections. The measure, called the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, would provide public money for candidates running in a statewide election. Backers of the bill say public funding of political races would eliminate the need for candidates to raise millions from special-interest groups and corporate donors while enabling everyday citizens to seek office.
In a district that's been safely Democratic for almost a decade, Umberg obviously needed that million-dollar-plus cushion to ensure his victory against Bade in 2004. And he still needs campaign-finance law to guarantee a million-dollar-plus fund-raising margin in the event Bade ever runs again. Bade, after all, was such a formidable foe that he received 31 percent of the popular vote even though Umberg was heroically prosecuting suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, during the campaign season, leaving his wife to show up at campaign rallies with a cardboard cutout of himself.
Now, imagine if Bade had had as much money as Umberg. Imagine, in other words, if the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act had been law last year. With the playing field evened out, Bade would have demolished Umberg with more copies of his endorsement by the Gun Owners of California, the one in which Bade decried the soldier as "Umberg and his elitist band of gun grabbers."
Bade would have printed more fliers with pictures of himself and such Democratic Latino luminaries as Lou Correa, Miguel Pulido and Santa Ana City Council Member Mike Garcia—the fliers that the three politicians immediately disavowed since Bade never asked them for permission to use the photos. Hell, Bade could even have purchased an army of Bade cutouts to debate Umberg fake face to fake face.
According to activists for the Clean Money and Elections Act, Umberg told them he wants to support campaign-finance reform but can't because the state of California can't afford it. Umberg didn't return our telephone call, presumably because he's off saving our nation from hooded, manacled teenagers and senile terrorist suspects in Gitmo. Either that, or helping multinational corporations privatize the water supply of impoverished South American countries. Those are tough assignments, but they pale in comparison with defeating the likes of Otto Bade and his war chest of millions of pennies.
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