Hello loyal readers, I hope everyone had a great Independence Day! Celebrating the “spiritual” founding of our nation is always a great opportunity to talk politics, particularly the changing nature of the political landscape that has occurred since we told the British Empire to shove it. The societal and scientific changes since the Founders put quill to parchment are simply mind boggling: the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, snowballs… really, the list is effectively endless.
With that said, I think one of the things they would find rather odd (aside from the no slaves and women voting part) is campaign finance and how it currently exists. It's not like financing a political campaign didn't exist back in the day, but the Constitution is largely mute on the subject. While at the federal & state level the big issue seems to be donor-to-candidate influence, the opposite seems to be true at the local level. In other words, the bigger issue is usually whether candidates are using donated money to inappropriately influence voters or to benefit themselves. Naturally, Baton Rouge is a great example of this.
Recently, the Louisiana Ethics Board took Mayor Kip Holden to court on campaign finance violations, specifically that he used money to pay for funeral expenses of constituents and provided money to allow for students (including Councilwoman Tara Wicker's daughter) to participate in a variety of activities. They lost the case . While I think providing money to benefit a relative of a Councilperson is sketchy at best, the way the case was handled really highlights problems with the Ethics Board, some of which are self-created, others not.
So what's the problem with the Ethics Board? Aside from selective enforcement (we'll look at that in a second), the biggest issue they have is the statue under which they operate. It's pretty terrible. It basically says that campaign funds have to be used to fund a campaign or to pay expenses related to holding a public office. They can't be used for personal use. That's it; there are really no further definitions involved. Obviously, there's a couple of pretty big holes here (N.B. Basically all the parts not directly involving campaign spending). Realizing they have a definitional problem, the Ethics Board has asked the State Legislature to clearly define permitted uses. Unsurprisingly, that didn't get anywhere and no bills dealing with the issue were proposed this session. As a result, the Ethics Board has stated that they are going to base their enforcement guidelines around federal law. That's cool and all since the Legislature is being useless regarding this matter, but the Ethics Board should clearly articulate and evenly enforce these rules.
According to the Advocate, federal law would prohibit the expenditure of campaign funds for clothing, tickets to sports and entertainment events, and gifts and donations of money to constituents among other things. That sounds pretty reasonable to me. So, as long as those standards are applied evenly we should be good to go. Unfortunately, the even application part has been problematic. I went ahead and sifted through the campaign finance expenditures of our Metro Council members and came up with a few uses that may be questionable in light of the charges against Holden. Instead of just telling you who spent what, let's play a game! Match the Metro Council member with their Questionable Expenditure:
Now, I'm not saying any of these are actually in violation of the poorly written state campaign finance laws, but they all look a little sketchy. Here's hoping the Ethics Board will clearly articulate their rules before campaign season kicks into high gear. Have fun figuring these out and I'll have the answers next time.
Until next time!
P.S. I had mentioned last blog that I was going to talk local elections, but I've been hearing rumors about potential new candidates and want to wait to see if any of those play out. If true, some could really shake up a few races.
Most recent The Spoils of Progress blog posts
Bad Guys, Good Eats! Pop-Up Dinner at Restaurant IPO
Chef and 225 contributor Jay D. Ducote and Chef Chris Wadsworth hosted the Bad Guys, Good Eats! dinner at Restaurant IPO Wednesday night. The dinner was themed around famous movie villains, pairing cocktails and ales with plates of food resembling famous baddies like The Joker, Lord Voldemort, Hannibal Lector, and many others. The highlights of the night were the three middle courses—a black bean soup laced with blood sausage to signify Lord Voldemort, a brace of coneys on black eyed peas resembling Sauron, and lamb medallions atop a fava bean puree to pay homage to the famous favorite of Hannibal Lector.
Elizabeth Arkley Hammett, a local nursing student and Fur Ball co-coordinator, and her husband Grey Hammett III, who works in commercial real estate, will take you through our summer guide. And they'll look good while doing it, too. Where noted, their clothes and accessories are available from local retailers.
These swimsuits will keep you stylish all summer long
Better Block BR
On Saturday the two blocks between Bedford and Beverly drives on April 13, 2013, residents will get to see a model of what Government Street could look like if we push local and state officials to update the roadway to a safer, more "complete street" model.