Ethics in politics?

By Matthew Sutton of Central Point, Oregon who describes himself as "a committed father, husband and attorney, who is proud to be an American, though not so proud of our current leadership, a Christian, and a Democrat in the tradition of JFK and RFK."

Much has been made over the last year about undisclosed influence by lobbyists over our Oregon legislators. In 2008, the electorate will be able to express their approval or disapproval as to how well our legislature has responded to these concerns.

On the national level, the model seems to be that wide spread corruption results in significant reform. The corruption of the 1970's resulted in the Freedom of Information Act and many other efforts towards transparency and oversight. More recently, the so called "culture of corruption" resulted in sweeping ethics reform being enacted as one of the first orders of business of the new Congress controlled by Democrats. One would hope that we don't need more scandals in Oregon before substantial reform is enacted.

But what is the message for candidates running for office in Oregon and on the national level? Is ethics and transparency a passing fad or something that will resonate with the voters? Should our Oregon Democratic leaders be on the cutting edge of ethical reform, or wait for more scandals to spur them along?

At least one presidential candidate is making a point of making ethical reform a part of his campaign and showing that it is actually a political advantage. In the spirit of openness, he has published a book voluntarily airing his own "dirty laundry." Similarly, he is the only major candidate who has committed to release his tax returns. Don't his opponents know that voters will ask what income or donations they are trying to hide?

This candidate was one of the architects who, with Sen. Russ Feingold, introduced the aforementioned biggest national ethics reform since the 1970's. So it is not surprising that he is the only major candidate who has refused to accept donations from federal lobbyists and PACs.

The question then becomes, will Senator Barack Obama's example in this regard become the model for candidates in Oregon? Should Oregon politicians be advocates for ethical reform while modeling it in their own campaigns?

Early indications are that Oregon politicians better take heed. We all have heard about how Senator Obama received over 100,000 donations in the first quarter, bringing in more donations for the primary than even Senator Clinton. But a more significant sign is that in Oregon at least 43 groups of Obama supporters have already formed on his official website alone. One such group "Oregonians for Obama" already has 135 supporters registered. Obama supporters are organizing not only in Portland, but in more remote areas such as Eastern Oregon, the Illinois Valley, and Southern Oregon.

If this trend continues, Oregon politicians would do well by being proactive on ethics reform and ethical practices. Otherwise, come 2008, they may find themselves on the outside looking in.

Comments

  • Mark D Cole (unverified)
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    Very Well Said!!!

  • JohnH (unverified)
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    Oregon's legislators are running out the clock on meaningful changes before 2008. On campaign finance reform Democrats, despite control of the legislative and exective branches, have refused to consider even the appearance of reform.

    Lets hope that every family in Oregon follows Obama's inspiration and supports candidates not behoden to Big Money. After all, it's a no brainer: Oregon's tax credit for political contributtions means that donations up to $100 are free.

  • (Show?)

    So it is not surprising that he is the only major candidate who has refused to accept donations from federal lobbyists and PACs.

    Not to discount Senator Obama's pledge, but the bundling of corporate money has a much more significant inmpact on the presidential race than does pac money, which can just as easily be bundled into an independent expenditure campaign.

    Russ Feingold has been a champion on this issue, and I'm glad that Obama has signed on as well, but most of the recent Federal reforms of campaign finance laws have merely served to make voters more cynical about the prospects of real reform -- which will invariably be denounced by those who benefit the most from the status quo.

    One need look no further than Ginny Burdick's decision to table Dalton's law, which passed unanimously in the house, but was opposed by lobbyists from fellow Portland Business Aliance Member, General Motors, to see that Democrats are not free from the influence on the corporate lobby.

    It'll be interesting to see if Gard and Gerber picks up GM as a client, or if GM sends some contributions to the Senate Dems and/or Burdick during the next election cycle.

  • anon (unverified)
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    so this probably isnt the place to wage this comment, but I figured it'd work as well as anything. For the record, I am not a fan of the new "whats on Blue Oregon today" thing at the top of the main page. I didnt mind (and kind of enjoyed) scrolling down through the stories.

  • Measure 46 (unverified)
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    On campaign finance reform Democrats, despite control of the legislative and exective branches, have refused to consider even the appearance of reform.

    JohnH, what part of unconstitutional do you not understand? When your constitutional amendment goes down 60-40 on the popular vote, what is it exactly that you expect the legislature to do?

    Not to discount Senator Obama's pledge, but the bundling of corporate money has a much more significant inmpact on the presidential race than does pac money, which can just as easily be bundled into an independent expenditure campaign.

    Sal, this shows a very limited understanding of federal campaign finance law. Corporations cannot give to federal campaign committees, only their PACs can, which seems to contradict your position.

    So at the federal level, when you talk about "corporate" money, you are talking about money from corporate executives who, as Americans, have as much right to give to campaigns, subject to the guidelines, as we schlubs of more modest means.

    Corporate PACs, or more correctly, multi-candidate committees, are also limited in what they can give, and those limits are the same as non-profit PACs, leadership PACs, etc.

    When people talk about "bundling" what they are talking about is the concept expertly employed by the Bush-Cheney campaign, their "Ranger" model. This is already illegal. This is where you round up a supporter to then raise money from other people. That person has his friends send all the checks to him, and then he sends them in a "bundle" to your campaign. BCRA outlawed that practice.

    Now, reform supporters are trying to redefine "bundling" to include people who essentially act as volunteer fundraisers for a campaign. They call all their friends and encourage them to send you money, and then later take "credit" for all that money raised. Reform supporters don't want to outlaw that practice, they want to make it more transparent, i.e. those volunteers fundraisers have to report how much they raised for your campaign and from whom.

    The argument for outlawing this practice is based on the notion that lobbyists or corporate executives can garner more favor with federal electeds by raising more and more money for them. It isn't an unsound argument, but for my taste, it treads a little too close to the "political fundraising is inherently corrupt" ruse.

    Your mention of independent expenditure campaigns is nonsensical. Since IEs are expressly prohibited from having any contact with individual campaign committees, you fail to make the case for how they would curry favor or influence.

    No one "bundles" money into an IE since their limitations are far less restrictive.

    Bottom line, this "I won't take PAC money" line is laughable as a statement of principle. Since PACs can only give $10K, and a married couple can give $9200, there's really not a lot of difference in PAC contributions and individual contributions, is there?

  • (Show?)

    Dear Anon 46...

    My point is that the bundling money from corporate donors (i.e., "soft money" contributions from execs) is a much more significant source of money to presidential committees than Pac money, and whether or not Obama takes money from pacs is not terribly meaningful since those pacs will still be major players in the race.

    Accuse me of imprecise language if you'd like, and then get over yourself.

  • JohnH (unverified)
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    Anon Measure 46--

    Excuse me, but Measure 47 passed, despite a campaign waged against it by "progressive" groups who claimed to "support" campaign finance reform but were just opposed to M46-47. Without their opposition M46 might well have passed as well. So if these "progressive" groups truly supported campaign finance reform, why are they doing nothing in this session? Why aren't they pushing some sort of legislation, such as referring a ballot initiative, that is to their liking? Why don't they enact the disclosure clauses of M47, which are obviously constitutional?

    As Matthew Sutton says, "One would hope that we don't need more scandals in Oregon before substantial reform is enacted." Given this legislature's behavior, voters have little assurance that scandals can be avoided.

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    It'll be interesting to see if Gard and Gerber picks up GM as a client...

    I thought I'd heard she no longer works there. Her name isn't on their "team" page.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Loved this quote, Matthew:

    If this trend continues, Oregon politicians would do well by being proactive on ethics reform and ethical practices. Otherwise, come 2008, they may find themselves on the outside looking in. <<

    I agree---too many Oregon House elections were decided within the number of non-party registered voters in the district to be comfortable with majority remaining the same in 2009. And there are serious people who advocate non-partisan legislature because they are sick and tired of partisanship.

    Take it from someone who A) was a strong supporter of 1994 Measure 9 campaign finance reform but reserves the right to vote against any measure (such as 46) which seems to me to be poorly worded, b) lived thru the problems of the late 1980s and after --a time when Democrats got hit with major fines and scandals, split on the issue of campaign finance reform, with some not wanting anything to get in the way of trying to get money out of big donors and said they were more important than volunteers, c)helped elect the first Democrat to ever serve in my state rep. district----and did so in the days before legislative caucuses were treated as the first and last word in legislative campaigns.

    I recall a time when there were leading Democrats who disagreed on campaign finance reform, even to the point of opponents telling those of us who were advocates that it wasn't an important issue. As I recall, a friend who ran for legislature in 1994 was advised that the caucus didn't support Measure 9 campaign finance reform and wondered why a candidate would attend the ceremony to turn in the signatures.

    Go to a public library sometime (don't think articles that early are available online) and find the Sunday Oregonian right about the time of the 1996 general election (maybe first Sunday in November). Great expose about people from outside legislative districts (consultants, caucus campaign folks, etc) telling candidates not to think for themselves because they had the revealed truth, and the views of constituents were secondary to what consultants told candidates to do.

    Time to get "we the people" back into the equation. Sal Peralta has said some excellent things on this subject. He wasn't supposed to have a chance, but he almost won. The "powers that be" had Hillary Clinton nominated before Denver was set as the site of the 2008 convention, but that doesn't look as inevitable now, does it?

    Some of my friends are so burned out they won't even discuss politics anymore. And some of us have more respect for the Public Comm. on the Legislature and their work last year than for most legislators (Duin column about St. Rep. Ben Cannon being an exception).

    It is time to have this debate out in the open. I mean honest debate, not "if you didn't campaign for 46 and 47 you have no right to talk about campaign ethics" kind of slander which sounds a lot like the flip side of Karl Rove.

    JFK had a great quote to the effect that a nation afraid to let its people judge truth and falsehood in an open market of ideas is a nation afraid of its people.

    Some political debates (among people of any persuasion) sound like some advocates are worried about people who ask tough questions and don't accept the "revealed truth".

  • OregonVoter (unverified)
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    Campaign finance reform has little to do with genuine ethics in government. A recent case in the news demonstrates the point: The political appointees making up the Government Standards and Practices Commission recently refused to investigate Potter and the Blazers for a clear violation of the gifts ban. The professional staff had brought this before the Commission because it was an irrefutable violation of the law.

    The explicit reason the Comission gave: It is the job of elected officials to act corruptly in the interesting of promoting private business interests, regardless of what the law says. Significantly, the voters of Portland specifically rejected exactly this argument when they voted down the recent charter revision that included a provision that it would have enshrined the GSPC's endorsement of corruption in the City charter and made it the Mayor's specific job to promote private business interests.

    To a large extent, in a state with a citizen legislature, campaign finance reform has very little relevance on curbing corruption. People have to make a living regardless of their status as a legislator and it is in the course of having to do that in which private interests will always have the opportunity to corrupt them. That is what the political appointees on the GSPC explicitly condoned in refusing to investigate Potter, and what you do in here in running on vacuously about campaign finance reform as having anything significant to do with ethics reform.

  • Gordie (unverified)
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    Just a quick note to the author...the Illinois Valley is in Southern Oregon. It's here in Josephine County.

  • Measure 46 (unverified)
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    Excuse me, but Measure 47 passed, despite a campaign waged against it by "progressive" groups who claimed to "support" campaign finance reform but were just opposed to M46-47. Without their opposition M46 might well have passed as well.

    JohnH, that is the most asinine statement I've read on here in a while. Though the statement may be technically true, your clear disdain for the democratic process leaves the rest of your argument insufficient.

    Your statement could apply to any other ballot measure or candidate as well. Let's give it a try:

    • If Planned Parenthood hadn't campaigned against M43, teenage victims of incest would have to ask their abusive fathers before getting an abortion.

    • If good government groups hadn't campaigned against M48, the legislature wouldn't be able to raise spending levels for state agencies when necessary

    • If Donna Nelson hadn't campaigned against Sal Peralta, she would have easily been defeated in HD24

    See the problem?

    ...bundling money from corporate donors (i.e., "soft money" contributions from execs) is a much more significant source of money to presidential committees...

    Sal, you too are technically correct but also seemingly disdainful of the democratic process.

    What reason can you possibly offer to disallow contributions from corporate execs just because they are corporate execs? They are as American as the rest of us and ought to be able to donate like the rest of us, up to the legal limit. As previously mentioned, "bundling" is already illegal, and the Feingold proposal doesn't restrict this new, redefined bundling, it only makes it more transparent.

    Friends, you aren't going to be able to regulate money and influence out of politics. It just isn't possible. The ONLY way it will happen is though 100% publicly financed campaigns. And I haven't heard one of you mention that solution.

    Otherwise, your stated goal is to restrict the political speech of those who have been more financially successful than the rest of us. That is exceedingly populist, but it isn't very progressive at all. Progressivism is predicated on lifting up those at the bottom, not squashing down those at the top.

    Also, thanks to BCRA, soft money in political campaigns doesn't exist anymore. All contributions to federal campaigns are hard money. If they aren't, they are illegal. The only soft money these days goes to 527s and 501(c)(4)'s.

  • Measure 46 (unverified)
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    And while I'm at it, let me give you a little project that will open your eyes to the way politics really works, Matthew.

    Yeah, Barack says he won't take money from lobbyists. That's sweet. Golly gosh, he's such a good and honest guy.

    Now, if his fundraisers are worth the money he's paying them they are doing two things:

    First, they are vetting every check they receive to make sure they are not violating that campaign promise.

    Second, and more importantly, they are asking every lobbyist they know to donate in their spouse's and kids' names.

    Oh my, you say, he wouldn't possibly do something like that, would he?

    Well, here's your project. I'd do it, but I don't care enough and I don't think lobbyists and political contributions are inherently bad:

    Go to the Obama breakdown on political moneyline and check out the donations from the top 10 states. Here's what you'll find: #5 is DC, #6 is Maryland, #8 is Virginia.

    Next, click into those state breakdowns and note the number of "not employed" and "homemaker" designations on all those $1000+ donations. If you've got the time, cross-check them with similar designations in other states.

    Now ask yourself: in the DC-MD-VA metro area, what is the primary occupation of moms and dads that would allow lots of unemployed kids and homemaker spouses to write big fat checks to political candidates?

    Oh, and Sal, before you jump on the Obama train, it looks like he has taken "bundling" mainstream:

    "Your own personal fundraising page will put the financial future of this campaign in your hands. You set your own goal, you do the outreach, and you get the credit for the results.

    "Your personal fundraising page can include your own photo and testimonial, and a thermometer that will show your progress toward your goal in real time.

    "Login or create your My.BarackObama.com account now to grow your personal network of donors."

    Interesting, wouldn't you say?

  • (Show?)

    Personal fundraising pages are nothing new. Act Blue does this. Campaigns have done this for quite some time now. Dean was pretty successful with it. The DNC does it - I have my own page there.

  • JohnH (unverified)
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    At least you finally made your position clear, M46: you find any attempt at regulating Big Money's spending to be futile and undesirable. Maybe the Democrats in the legislature agree with you. I don't.

    So why haven't they done anything to pass the M47 disclosure regulations? Why haven't they done anything to introduce a Maine or Arizona-style public finance law? Answer: they are being loyal to their paymasters.

    I don't believe you can be progressive and sit by and watch elections being bought by the highest bidder. Big Money brought Oregon the lowest corporate tax burden in the nation. And they recently brought us a Renewable Energy Law that lets the big utilities pass on their renewable energy costs without submitting a case to the PUC. And their plate is full of more unpleasant surprises.

    Big money pays for the legislature, and people end up paying for government. Sweet deal if you can afford it.

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)
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    This is a great discussion people, let's keep it going. I'd like to hear some specific proposals from people on what we can do in Oregon to lessen the influence of "big money" in our government and make whatever influence is out there more transparent.

    Part of the Federal Funding Accounting and Transparency Act introduced by Senator Obama requires the creation of a special website where such things as the details about federal earmarks, who is benefiting from them, etc. would be posted. Couldn't we have something similar here in Oregon to shine the light on on our legislation, who is pushing it, who is giving in to the push, and who is benefiting by it? How about the contributors and the amounts of the contributions to the legislators also being posted on the same website?

    Oregon is a cutting edge State. Why can't we go for the cutting edge on this? This should be a bipartisan issue. But if the Dems took the lead on this, and the Republicans fought it, wouldn't that be great campaign for the campaign trail?

    And yes I know the Illnois Valley is in Southern Oregon, a beautiful area I've been to several times. I was simply referring to the fact that Senator Obama has a group there, in addition to other groups designated for Southern Oregon.

  • Measure 46 (unverified)
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    Personal fundraising pages are nothing new. Act Blue does this. Campaigns have done this for quite some time now

    Jenny--

    Fair enough. But the point I was making is that this is exactly what Sal is trying to do away with. The only difference is that this isn't geared toward corporate CEOs, but to you and me.

    And frankly I think it makes my point. As I mentioned before, progressives should be more concerned with lifting up those at the bottom than trying to push down those at the top.

    That is exactly what this does, and I think it's a great idea.

    But Sal can't have his cake and eat it too. You can't have personal fundraising pages like this that encourage "bundling" and at the same time rail against the evils of bundling when corporate execs are involved.

  • (Show?)

    Fair enough. But the point I was making is that this is exactly what Sal is trying to do away with.

    Actually, the reforms I've promoted encourage bundling of individual contributions.

    What reason can you possibly offer to disallow contributions from corporate execs just because they are corporate execs?

    I've never said anything remotely like that.

    I don't have a problem with you disagreeing with things that I say, but:

    1) Please restrict your disagreement to things that I have, in fact, said.

    2) Please try to understand what I say before you disagree with it.

    Thanks.

  • (Show?)

    Sal Peralta: I've never said anything remotely like that.

    Well, Sal, then it looks like you'll have to clarify your remarks, because that's exactly the impression I got. You specifically call out soft money "contributions from execs", as an issue that needs to be "reformed", and point off to the anti-union-donation / anti-corporation-donation Fair-Elections website. Mr. 46's characterization may not be exactly what you said, but it's at least got a passing resemblance.

    I'd also like to extend a warm BlueOregon welcome to Mr. "46". Just from reading his commentary, he's clearly a political pro who knows his stuff. That business on Obama (and how to pretend you're a total grassroots reformer without actually leaving any money on the table) is clearly the most insightful analysis I've read on BlueOregon in a long time. Don't feel your words are unappreciated; we're actually a pretty smart group - even those who disagree with you.

    JohnH? Please stop putting quotes around "progressive", as if you own the word and get to say who does and does not get to use it. The ACLU may defend the right of Neo-Nazis skinheads to march, and Republicans to give large campaign donations, but that doesn't mean they're not as "Progressive" as you are.

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