Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Boy’s Got Balls

Trouble Is…..........They’re Not Really His

The mayor vetoed campaign finance reform in the City of Pittsburgh yesterday. He delivered a lengthy letter to City Council, making an impassioned case that his veto was the one true instrument of reform. And Council? Well, they were just hypocritical hucksters trying to pull a fast one on the good citizens of the Burgh.

Ravenstahl’s overall assessment was that council’s campaign finance reform bill was "fraught with problems" and he needed to stop it in its tracks. By contrast, a council majority thought it was the mayor himself who was fraught with problems … all sorts of problems. But the majority did not number six and so the mayor’s veto stood.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, let’s take a look at Luke’s concerns and council’s rebuttals.

We’ll hear why large contributions to Councilman Bill Peduto are bad things but large contributions to the mayor are good. We’ll hear Tonya Payne lament that she’s unable to attract big buck donors, so limiting her opponent’s fundraising capabilities would just be another handicap she doesn’t want to bear. (Yes, I’m aware this makes no sense. But not much of what Tonya says ever does.)

We’ll hear Shields contradict Ravenstahl. We’ll hear Ravenstahl contradict Peduto. We’ll even hear Ravenstahl contradict himself! (Is that a surprise?)

Fraughtful Problem #1: Council’s bill provides an unfair advantage for the wealthy.

Luke: “Last year the bill’s sponsor (Peduto) received $50,000 contribution from a wealthy private citizen whose business specializes in outsourcing work to Asia. Assume for the moment the contributor instead decided to seek higher office, running on an anti-labor platform and self-financing the entire campaign. Under the current bill, the labor community, whose funds are raised at the small dollar level from working men and women and distributed through PACs, would be forced to find fifty PACs to contribute to the maximum levels prescribed by this bill to match the wealthy anti-labor candidate.”

Doug: “Simply balderdash. We’ve had wealthy run and lose. And we’ve had uneven playing fields. It really gets down to the content of the character of the candidate rather than how much is in your purse.”

Ms Pist Commentary: Well, here’s another fraughtful hypothetical to ponder. Let’s assume for the moment that two sign guys blow into town from Oregon and they give a candidate $25,000. The candidate then gives them permits for two Downtown signs even though signs are not permitted Downtown. But the Oregon sign guys turn around and sell the sign space to another sign company for $750,000, making a huge quick profit. Let’s further assume that the Oregon guys decide to move to Pittsburgh because the pickings are so good here. They could cut out the candidate middle-man and just run for office themselves. They could use the $750,000 profit to self-finance their own campaign, and then plaster signs everywhere all over Pittsburgh. Even a big one that says “UPMC” on top of the highest skyscraper Downtown. Just think of this hypothetical. It would be really horrible, wouldn’t it?

Fraughtful Problem #1A: Wealthy people could just buy the election with their own money.

Luke: “The most obvious problem is wealthy individuals could have the ability to circumvent the proposed rules by contributing unlimited amounts from their own coffers.

Doug: “That matter was dealt with 10 years ago in the Supreme Court of the United States. It’s the law of the land in this nation that if you want to donate as much of your money that is available to you personally…you can.

Kraus: “As you stated, that is the Supreme Court ruling. That is the law of the land, not just the City of Pittsburgh, but of the United States of America.”

Ms. Pist Commentary: Can you say ‘Hillary Clinton’?

Fraughtful Problem #2: It would have a chilling effect on the labor movement.

Luke: “A cap on the ability of labor organizations to promote candidates who share their vision is an incredible disadvantage for the labor movement and harmful to what Pittsburgh has worked so hard to achieve in an increasingly outsourced world.”

Doug: “The AFL-CIO, one of the largest labor organizations in the United States, has sponsored and promoted and fought for campaign finance reform in a shape very similar to the bill that has been presented to this council.”

Kraus: “The AFL-CIO web site says ‘Nothing is more important to our democracy than the integrity of our election system, that it be preserved, and that all Americans have full confidence that their vote and voice will be heard. These goals are threatened by a system of financing political campaigns that is widely believed to be corrupt and which unfairly rewards large contributors by amplifying their voice at the expense of ordinary citizens.’”

Fraughtful Problem #3: Challengers will be unable to mount successful campaigns against incumbents.

Luke: Went on a long diatribe about how three of the new councilmen who unseated incumbents were only able to do so because of the many “large” contributions they received. He said “One councilman got $5000, $5000 and $15,000. Another got $2500, $2500, $2500, $2600, $3000, $3200, $3500, $4375, $5000 and $5000. The third got $5500 and $12,500.”

Doug: “There is a pay-to-play world out there. To suggest that there is not is simply wrong. It goes on. It happens. It’s used to intimidate. It’s also used to keep people from running, period. And that happened last year when there was no money available for any other candidate to get in the race at all. So let’s not kid ourselves about that.

Ms. Pist Commentary: Maybe Doug was speaking of the mayor’s own race whereby he, as the incumbent, received these “large” contributions, which may have made it difficult for the challenger: $25,000, $12,500, $12,500, $10,000, $10,000, $10,000, $10,000, $10,000, $10,000, $10,000, $7000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $5000, $3950, $2750, $2500, $2500, $2500, $2500, $2500.

Fraughtful Problem #4: It’s unfair to have certain rules for city offices and other rules for state offices.

Luke: “Worthwhile campaign finance reform can only be achieved by creating a state-wide standard focused on leveling the playing field for all Pennsylvanians. [This bill] does not provide a level playing field between city, county and state office holders.” Luke went on to complain about the disadvantages of a city office-holder who might aspire to county or state office someday. While holding city office, that person would only be able to amass a puny “war chest” because of the proposed city campaign limits. His county or state incumbent opponent would be able to unfairly out-raise him.

Luke Contradicting Himself: “Quality legislation would treat each office differently. [City Council] is elected by citizens in districts 1/9th the size of the city. As such, it would follow that (good) campaign finance legislation would create contribution limitations that reflect this inherent difference between the offices of city council and those of the mayor and city controller. True reform would cap city council races at 1/9th of what may be contributed in races for citywide offices. This concept is not just logical it is also practical. Historically the victor in a city council race raises and spends no more than $100,000. Legitimate contenders in a race for citywide office often need to raise and spend 10 times that amount. The failure of this bill to address the inherent differences between candidates for city council and citywide offices hints that this bill is not about good government or even the sponsors stated intent to end a so-called pay-to-play system. Rather, this failure creates the appearance that this is simply designed to impact the rules for the race for mayor.”

Ms. Pist Commentary: The boy is just freakin’ paranoid, plain and simple.

Kraus: “This confuses me. It seems we sort of go back and forth between a level playing field and the fact that council and the two city-wide offices should be funded differently and at different amounts. Also, [this legislation was not] designed to impact the rules for the race for mayor. We dealt with that SPECIFICALLY early on so that this would not be enacted until 2010 to SPECIFICALLY take that misinformation off the table. This was not going to affect this next round of campaigns at all.”

Doug: “Candidates who are in the city who wish to run in the county or state can simply maintain two fundraising PACs. One for use statewide where they have an unlimited ability and get unlimited amounts of dollars out there.”

Tonya Contradicting Both Herself And Luke: “We just want to make sure [reform] is applied evenly across the board, across the Commonwealth, across all elected offices so that no one is basically left at a disadvantage. I didn’t feel comfortable with creating yet another handicap. It’s a different story when you’re a female in this business. And it’s a different story when you’re an African-American in this business. Those are two handicaps so why would I create another handicap? My biggest contribution ever was $2500. My contributions are never bigger than $1000. I can imagine that every man in this body here can out-raise me two-to-one or more. So why should I create anything that’s gonna handicap me. I already got enough handicaps.”

So did Luke have any helpful ideas for council as to what “quality” campaign finance reform legislation might look like? Yes, Luke said he would like to see 1) An open and transparent process. 2) Which donors are doing business with the city to end an “unfounded suspicion” of a pay-to-play culture. 3) Advocate for true reform on a statewide level with uniformity throughout both the county and the commonwealth. 4) Full disclosure of who is giving what to whom without a dollar amount attached must be at its core. (!!??!!)

Kraus: “Without a dollar amount attached? I do not understand. I thought that was the whole purpose of campaign finance law. Full disclosure of the amounts given, from whom, by whom, to whom was supposed to be a matter of public record.”

Things didn’t end as bleak as one might think. Tonya let everyone know she was voting ‘no’ because the Democratic Machine was not operating at its worst. Or something akin to that:

“This Saturday at the Democratic State Committee meeting a revolution (sic) was passed for campaign finance reform, asking that the state legislature take this issue up and that campaign finance reform become a matter of law throughout the Commonwealth. So I don’t see us saying ‘no’ to this as just the Democratic Party Machine at its worst. Because the Machine actually said to the legislature ‘move forward on this issue.’”

Doug Shields was easier on the ear: “For us to lose this opportunity is indeed unfortunate. But … we’ve had bills vetoed before. I’ve had legislation go down in flames. The great thing about politics and baseball is that there’s always tomorrow. We’ll keep working on this."


Mark Rauterkus said...

Nice post. Next mission -- to sustain the conversation and suggest real reforms.

There are some towns that have done the merger thing well -- and all offices from Mayor or down (like controller, council and school board) are conducted without any party labels. That would be reform.

Ballot access.

Referendum questions with easy ballot access.

IRV (instant runoff voting).

Anonymous said...

The word 'fraughtful', not to be confused with 'thoughtful'.

SgtPepper said...

Enough already. It is time to move this issue forward. Campaign finance reform is a necessity. These bandits ate stealing millions of dollars of from citizens. With the money spent on this year's election alone, we could end hunger and poverty in the United States. I tossed a brick at to let them know we want take it anymore.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Luke is that he's the summer intern Mayor. You guys have a real piece of work up there. I would consider moving to Pittsburgh, but I'm not one to put up with that kind of crap from local government. Also, I want to live in a town where I'm not smarter than the Mayor. I know Luke, and I can say without hesitation that I cam smarter than him.

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