Want to know how you, Mr. Jake Everyday Worker - who had just enough discretionary income to get a tub of popcorn with extra butter on Miami Vice opening weekend, who is trying not to pawn your DVDs for gas money - could ever compete with those pay-to-play lobbyists who wield influence in Washington, swing nine irons in Scotland, and tickle legislators' chins in luxury sky boxes?
You don't have the money, so forget it, Jake. It's politics.
Lobbyists have outpaced even their former gift-giving selves, with the top 25 Texas lobbyists increasing their political contributions to state candidates and political-action committees a full 390 percent from 1999 to 2003. The nonpartisan group Texans for Public Justice reports that thanks to fundraising schemes engineered by the now-indicted Tom DeLay and his Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, these 25 lobbyists threw more than $3.1 million at our 2004 election, and in the direction of incumbent Republicans like Lieutenant Governor David "Pay the Fiddler" Dewhurst ($317,467), Governor Rick "Money Can't Buy Me Love" Perry ($231,270), Speaker Tom "My Lobbyist Went to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC and All I Got Was This $150,000 T-Shirt" Craddick ($148,159), Attorney General Greg "Senate, Here I Come" Abbott ($114,000), and Comptroller Carole "No Nickname Allowed" Keeton Strayhorn ($112,296).
Still, the folks at Buyblue.org, a San Francisco-based website born after the Democrats' mighty ship of dreams sank in the 2004 election, believe that the little guy can channel his wee dollars to more progressive representatives - through consumerism.
Recent campaign-finance laws make it illegal for corporations to contribute directly to a politician but they do it in a lot of indirect ways, says Houston native Raven Brooks, a SF software designer and president of Buyblue. With the help of 350 volunteers and eight board members combing through Federal Election Commission declarations and other sociopolitical detritus (newspapers &tc.), Buyblue sorts Big Business into party affiliations - by assessing a company's labor and environmental practices, and political contributions made by its PAC and top executives.
And that is why your underwear have become a partisan battleground. (The website advises centrists and lefties to buy their tighty whities from Neiman Marcus, Men's Wearhouse, or Academy Sports & Outdoors, all blue-leaning companies headquarted in Texas.)
"We're trying to shine a light on political donations, and what `companies` are really doing," Brooks said in a phone interview with the Current. "It can make a difference if enough people buy into the idea and exercise their power as consumers and actively make choices in their life about where they shop ... and get their philosophies in line with their budgets."
POP QUIZ: Buyblue says which of the following Texan companies are not GOP supporters: Halliburton Curves Pier 1 Luby's ANSWER: You lose! They were all listed as die-hard GOP.
But to be honest, Buyblue's two-toned view of the world can be over-simplified (should companies get blue credit for donating to Lieberman? Independents?) and inconclusive: H-E-B, which doesn't have a PAC, is listed as an almost equal supporter of both parties, because CEO Charles Butt is reported to have given $7,000 to Dems and $6,000 to the GOP in the 2003-04 election cycle, the most recent figures available. The grocer gets points for trying to reduce truck-fleet fuel emissions. And a minus for not offering domestic-partner benefits. So should I buy that deodorant crystal from Central Market or what?
Buyblue.org has inspired some consumer conversions: As part of their Blue Christmas campaign in 2005, they got 335 people to switch to Progressive Auto Insurance, named a Dem-lover on the scorecard. The campaign featured Santa dressed head to toe in (what? Green raffia?) blue. (Oh.) And in two years the site's logged 2 million hits.
And what do San Antonians think of aligning their shopping with their political ideologies?
"I identify myself as Democrat," says Brenda Robbins, a dental hygienist with true-blue eyes, walking with her daughter among the Buddhas and imported rattan at San Pedro's Pier 1 (flagged a GOP sup porter because of donations made by its corporate leadership and their spouses). "This is such a global store, they're obviously trying to help people in other countries. I'll think about `the owners` being Republican, but I don't know if I'll not shop here now."
Meanwhile, it would seem that Big Business's political gift-giving is making a small shift toward the Dems. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that the Business-Industry Political Action Committee has already given 24 percent of its donations to Dems this year, compared with 3.5 percent by this time last year. FedEx, Verizon Communications, and tobacco firms like Lorillard Tobacco and Reynolds American, are throwing bigger bones to the underdog, the Journal said.
It has nothing to do with new-age boycotts or pressure from consumers, local PR strategist and former dairy-industry lobbyist Jim Eskin told the Current. The business sector is now hedging its bets, and lobbyists are keeping their eyes on voters, in anticipation of Democrats making gains in the next two national elections. So there you go, Jake: Voting don't cost a thing.