Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Getting the skinny on ballot measures

I've been an Oregonian almost my entire life. I was born in Idaho but we moved to Eastern Oregon before I could walk. And with the exception of an 8 year stint in the Puget Sound area, I've always lived in my beloved Oregon. This is my home.

I know the governmental system here. I'm engaged in politics. I read the papers, watch the news on TV and try to stay tuned in to what's going on.

I also consider myself a reasonably intelligent woman. I have a bachelor's degree so I'm also (at least somewhat) educated.

So why am I having such a difficult time getting the low down on some of these ballot measures?

By "low down", I mean the money behind the measures and the real effect they'll have if they become law in our state.

I've previously recommended Our Oregon as a great place to get some of the information. And it is. But the information is limited to make it readable and accessible to the average person.

In order to get the real skinny on who is paying what and how much, we have to go to the Oregon Secretary of State--Election Divison's website. The campaign contribution and expenditure reports are all there, available in the PDF format.

I have no complaint with what these guys have done. The information is all there.

My gripe is with the PACs and organizations that put together the initiatives and then get the money. Its quite deliberately convoluted, as far as I'm concerned. And it looks very much like legalized money laundering.

I'm going to get into this more indepth in future posts, but here is a basic example:

1. Group A gets donation from individual.

2. Group A gives donation to Group B, keeping a small amount of money for itself OR

3. Group A gives loan to Group B, which is consequently almost the exact amount as the donation. And

4. Group A has a seemingly open ended repayment schedule for the loan to Group B.

I don't profess to know a lot about the mafia...but this looks like it could be a draft script for The Sopranos to me.

What motivates individuals and groups to do this sort of money scheming? I'm not entirely sure yet. Perhaps its so that contributors can hide who they're really giving money to.

Or maybe its just a way to pay the people that work for the PACs. Some of these loans and contributions are for substantial amounts: tens of thousands of dollars. If people are working for multiple organizations they could be skimming salary/expenses from several different places. That could potentially total up to a tidy amount.

And as far as I can tell..its set up to make it deliberately difficult to sort out exactly who is paying what..and to whom.

I really love this state. Its my home. But this system of funding ballot initiatives is really murky and honestly..I believe it undermines our ability as citizens to make informed decisions.

In my view, that undermines my ability to take good care of the home I love.