Thursday, February 28, 2008

Proposal to Bankers for a Campaign Marriage, with drive-through guests

Part 3 in a series on Campaign Finance Reform

by Mark Rauterkus of Pittsburgh's South Side

What happens in Las Vegas stays there and is kept confidential elsewhere, so they claim. Libertarians love privacy. Concealing personal matters is splendid. Small business banking should be kept under wraps too. Developing trade secrets and future strategies need to be cloaked in the marketplace.

However, Pittsburgh's political dealings and the associated campaign finances of candidates seeking public offices is a much different matter. Pittsburgh public should be at the opposite end of the spectrum of Vegas behaviors. The private deeds of Vegas should not be handled like public dances of local politicians in campaigns for votes.

This simple, free-market solution for government cuts governmental red tape and insures wider public participation through observation within our political campaigns. The campaign finance reform discussion (also see parts 1 and 2) calls us to think again on how to conduct local political races.

Now bankers and financial institutions can help to fix, rather than exasperate the folly. PNC Bank gets major windfalls from deals to refinance the city's debt. PNC Bank gets corporate welfare for downtown buildings and public garages next to its FirstSide office. Bankers, now is the time to provide a new type of basic service with a twist that helps citizens insure that campaigns for elected office are better able to be scrutinized.

As a citizen, I'm calling upon bankers at large and small institutions to help advance a new solutions. The implementation of the ideas will impact our political lives and become a best practice model with major ramifications. I do not advocate for public funds to finance the campaigns. The public treasury is too poor to do that. This new type of checking account cost nothing for the city and public sector.

Let's get local banks (or even one bank) to establish a new product for the specific use of political campaigns. This new service from the banking institutions would cater to campaigns, candidates and political action committees, called PACs. This product and service: a "Transparent PAC Account."

Banks generally emphasize privacy and identity protection. In this service, the opposite is desired. The goal of Transparent PAC Accounts is for giving notice of the accounts and to empower everyone and anyone to witness all transactions: deposits, payments, balances.

Transparent PAC Accounts would empower public viewing of campaign finances. Transparent PAC Accounts would eliminate doubts as to what campaigns and candidates are bought and paid for by which generous, special-interest donors.

Revealing campaign funds and transactions in modern ways with real-time postings of bank transactions on the internet is easily done with online banking. Everyone should be able to see all of the deposits (donations) into the campaign coffers of politicians. Tools should be made available so every voter can see how candidates save and spend money to fund their campaigns.

These accounts hosted at local banks (and even credit unions) could would be much like TRUST FUNDS in that others can witness the inflow and outflow of the funds. However, in this case, the trustees are the public. These trust funds exist in the world of banking today.

Candidates would happily move away from existing bank accounts stressing privacy into these Transparent PAC Accounts for their political action committees because filing requirements would vanish. Transparent PAC Accounts wipes away the need for need for governmental red tape in this realm. Since Transparent PAC Accounts have visible bank statements and histories that can't be manipulated and are hosted by trusted financial institution, candidates would only need to post the bank and account number details. Everyone, including media, opponents and watchdogs get clear views. The department of election and state can avoid redundant filing of paper records for those that use Transparent PAC Accounts.

Honesty, openness and accountability is needed and provided with Transparent PAC Accounts as new campaign finance measures are enacted. Otherwise, candidates can keep two sets of books and conceal wrongdoings. Pennsylvania is light-years behind in reforms of democracy. As a city, county and state, we have few if any campaign finance measures.

Pittsburgh's Transparent PAC Accounts could be a leading trend setter among local and national politicians, building on our banking and finance legacy.

Transparent PAC Accounts can lift the lid off of back-room dealings among politicians and special interest donors. Taxpayers and citizens get screwed when that "what-happens-in-Vegas attitude" surfaces among political players. Transparent PAC Accounts provide one way to keep the lights on.

Postings in this series:

Part 1: Local Campaign Finance Reform

Part 2: Making an ethical stand.

Part 3: Proposal to Bankers for a Campaign Marriage, with drive-through guests

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