In the old days of machine politics it was fairly common for party bosses to hand out "street money" on election day to ensure a large turnout favoring their candidates. Tim Draper, the "Silicon Valley" millionaire who is bankrolling the campaign to establish school vouchers in California (Proposition 38 on the November ballot) has come up with a new twist on this old game. According to a recent story by Nancy Vogel in the Los Angeles Times, Draper's Yes on 38 web site is offering a variety of prizes to people who sign up co-workers, friends and neighbors to support the voucher campaign.
According to the Times report, people are encouraged to register through the Yes on 38 web site as "team leaders". These "team leaders" then submit the names of potential "supporters" of the voucher proposition. These potential supporters are contacted by a private company, which encourages them to "register" by providing their names, addresses, and phone numbers.
The prizes that the so-called "team leaders" stand to win are substantial. They include Apple I-Mac computers, $2,000 Macy's gift certificates, and even an eight day trip to Hawaii for four people.
Even though the California Secretary of State's Office has ruled that these gifts do not constitute vote buying, the IP would like to point out that the so-called "team leaders" are not employees of the Yes on 38 campaign, nor were they volunteers before they were enticed to the campaign by the opportunity to receive these lucrative prizes. This comes about as close to vote buying as one can get without actually violating state election codes. Opponents of the voucher proposition claim that the tactics being employed on the Yes on 38 web site are born of desperation. Indeed, the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows the voucher proposition losing by a 53% to 47% margin.
In the long run, the tactics of the Yes on 38 folks may well backfire. In the past the voting public in California has had a tendency to react negatively to attempts to buy elections. Michael Huffington's ill-fated U.S. Senate campaign is a good example. The campaign in favor of the Proposition 38 is being funded largely from Draper's personal fortune rather than from an outpouring of contributions from the public. Voters may well look on the Yes on 38 campaign as just another attempt by a wealthy individual to push his own agenda.
In a previous article The Irascible Professor examined the arguments both for and against the Proposition 38 voucher proposal. In the IP's view, the voting public needs to examine these arguments carefully. The outcome of the election could determine the course of public education in California for decades to come. Free computers and Hawaiian vacations only serve to divert public attention from the basic issues involved. Draper would do well to forget the gimmicks and to let the election be decided on the issues.
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