Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You don't fix one problem with an approach that isn't about the problem: Campaign Finance Reform

This is what victory looks like!

When Bill Peduto championed campaign finance reform in 2004, I was there saying, "Think again."

Peduto knew of the gang of 75 who were the pay to play mavericks. They ruled this town and took from its treasury, as needed, via their no-bid contracts. They come in all flavors from law firms to bond underwriters to URA designer weenies.

Peduto's aim, in part, was to fix this 'pay to play mentality.' So, he wanted to limit the size of campaign donations. The pay to play problems shrink as the size of the pay-offs are able to decrease -- generally. But, the root of the problem is the awarding of city contracts to friends.

In the case of Twanda Carlisle, she gave city money and city contracts for doing nothing, to family and friends. Those folks didn't give big campaign donations. They were paid, but they didn't even need to play the game with advance payments.

My point in recent years has been to the problem of letting city contracts to those who are hand picked. End all no bid contracts and the pay to play realm gets shattered.

This is what's on the table now. This is a major reform move. This is what I've been talking about and it is coming to pass.

Can anyone tell me any reason why we need any no-bid contracts in city government?

Next, gifts. Sure. We can start a gift abatement policy. But, that has to come from the individuals and it would be nice to have an Ethics Hearing Board too. Rev. Ricky Burgess is ranting about gifts and that's just fine.

The problem comes from enforcement.

What if I give you a ride home after a meeting? What if I let you use a cell phone to call home because of some special circumstances? These are much like NCAA Recruiting and Eligibility Rules. Have you ever seen or read the NCAA Manuals? Thick like phone books. Fairness. A college athlete can't get a new suit to go to a banquet to get an award. That's a deal breaker that will change the team's record from the last year.

A college athlete can't use the coach's phone to call home -- even if mom is home sick. Bang. Eligibility violations.

The mirco management of elimination of all gifts can get really unhealthy.

The thing to do is offer and reward the culture of gift elimination. But, don't legislate morals, as that's next to impossible to do.

We need to hire and elect wise and honest individuals.

The kicker gets to enforcement, in the final chapters of these discussions. Time to talk, again, about the 'scarlet letter provisions.'

If a person wants to buy property from the city, and that person owes taxes to the city on any property, the deal is off. The city won't sell property to tax cheats. The people who owe back taxes are blacklisted and can't purchase additional properties from the city. That's fine with me and a great law and policy.

I'd like to see the same thinking apply to these matters of campaign finance reform enforcement.

So, if a company has an employee that donates more money than allowed to a candidate, as established by these pending bills -- then what. I say that that company has to get a better grip on its employees, or owners, or board members. And, that company as a cheat on the campaign finance reform measures would be ineligible for any business dealings with the city. That company would be blacklisted and not be eligible for any contract with the city -- other than paying taxes, of course.

For example, consider the case of building a bridge or digging a tunnel under a river for the expansion of light rail. Some city contracts are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Buying a council member or five, or a mayor or field of mayors, is worth tens of millions of dollars. And, if the penalty is a $10,000 fine -- yet the contracts are worth half-a-billion, then guess what.

Those who wanted the Mon Valley Toll Road gave Bob O'Connor and Tom Murphy both -- lots of money. They wanted to send the road through Hazelwood and into the Mon Valley -- out to Thomas Jefferson and such. This toll road would be valuable to those land speculators. And, it was worth hundreds of thousands. Those deals flowed in 2000 and 2001. Both O'Connor and Murphy spend $1-M in the 2001 primary election. Much of that money came from Mon Valley Advocates.

Same too happened with gambling.

Wayne Fontana and Michael Diven both had money from the D and R parties in Harrisburg that amounted to $1M each for a state senate seat. Years of gambling money, from horse track, slots, casinos, resorts and such flowed to Harrisburg and they were flush for their candidates.

Some deals, like casinos, stadiums, convention centers, sports teams, mass transit, airports, mining rights, dams, etc., are big ticket deals. Fortunes are made on the backs of public money.

We need to say that those who are guilty of breaking our rules are not eligible for any government dealings. That goes for the givers who give too much. And, that goes for the takers who take too much. Both are guilty. Those who are guilty can do so in their private lives on their private time with their private funds -- and should be excluded from any transactions from the public treasury. This would include pay checks.

And, the scarlet letter would last as long as those who are in office stay in office. The expiration of the black-listing should exceed the duration of the term of public employment in any capacity.

Now, let's swing the conversation of campaign finance reform to the enforcement aspects.


Justin Kownacki said...

I agree, but what individual (or group thereof) will be able to force legislation through that handcuffs the no-bid pals?

Mark Rauterkus said...

Not sure. But, the winds of change are blowing. We just need to get them headed in the right ways.

They are locking down on this now via Luke Ravenstahl (a bit) and in city council.