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Campaign finance reform

Jack Balshaw 5/28/2003


Next week the City Council is scheduled to have a discussion about retaining, modifying or eliminating the city's campaign finance ordinance that was passed in December of 2000. There'll be much high-minded rhetoric, but keep in mind how politics really works.

Special interests come in two forms, the grass roots kind and the organizations-with-similar-interest kind. The grass roots form typically provides those seeking election with the support of warm bodies and services-in-kind contributions. This support is in the form of delivering flyers door to door rather than spending money to mail them. It also provides contributions in the form of free printing and providing volunteers to hand out literature at malls and shopping centers.

Candidates supported by these organizations usually report much less in cash contributions than those who don't have volunteers available to provide services.

Other candidates have to depend on financial contributions to pay for printing, mailing, and handing out literature. This accounts for much of the big differences in the reported cash contributions between different candidates.

You might have noticed the piece in this paper that focused on the difference in CASH contributions. The organization providing that information was a grass roots type that benefits from the new ordinance.

Some information on how the existing ordinance came into being.

Prior to the November 2000 elections, our council had a 5 to 2 majority that was supported by grass roots types of organizations. This majority only had to win one of three seats up for election to keep its majority. They presumed that wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately for them, they didn't win any of these three seats. This meant that as of January 1, 2001, their interests would no longer control the council.

So, using their 5/2 majority, they rammed through our current ordinance between the time they lost the election and the time they would be out of office. This is not a nice way to behave. This was done to advantage those in the candidates in next election who support the old majority's positions.

There was no high-minded concern for the election process, just using power to gain an advantage. If it had been otherwise, the new ordinance would have been written long before the election they lost, not after. Now they're trying to retain that advantage by accusing those who wish to return to the old rules as undemocratic.

A large campaign fund is no guarantee of winning and neither is a low level of funding a guarantee of losing. The year I retired from the council, a first time candidate won while spending only $280, mostly for the statement printed in the ballot. She defeated a veteran council member who spent many times that.

Much is made of the incumbent's advantage of name recognition. This is only an advantage if the incumbent's actions and votes are liked by a large segment of the community. This is only fair for someone whom the community agrees with. On the other hand, if they don't like your actions or votes, all name recognition gets you is the voters decision that, "I'll never vote for him/her".

Much is also made of what is called "out of town cash contributions". In her last two elections, council member Torliatt's percentage of such contributions exceeded the next winning candidates by 118% and 34% respectively. Does this make her a tool of outside interests? In the last election she received 58% of her cash contributions from out of town sources while council member Moynihan (the designated bad guy) received only 43%. Which one is then a tool of these outsiders?

Before you accept the outrageous statements that will be reported out of the council session, pay attention to which side does the most name calling and mud slinging. That's often a substitute for logic.


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