Wednesday, April 12, 2006

So When Does Blackmer Audit Ginny Burdick?

Over at Jack Bog they're calling it the certain death of VOE. Blue Oregon denizens are emphasizing the relatively minor fixes necessary to strengthen public campaign finance. No doubt on super-scrutinizing high alert after the hubbub, Susan Francois put the nyet on Lucinda Tate's bid for taking money from two people twice, with a somewhat surprising shrug of the shoulders from much of the media and blogosphere. But Willamette Week best encapsulated the general mood in today's subhead: Emilie Boyles May Be Killing Public Finance.

WWeek's "Do you know that you seem like a freak to most people?" framing of their interview with Boyles was right on--sadly, after that pretty bizarre press release to "explain" the Golovan connection, she's earning the moniker. But one prong of their "are you really that clueless?" attack didn't strike me as well:
What did your daughter do for $12,500?

She's coordinated hundreds, if not thousands, of avenues that Portlanders get information from on-line about our campaign. She works at least 40 hours a week. We're not talking about your average 16-year-old.

But why hire her when it looks like you're using public money to get $12,500 to your teen-age daughter?

She needed a job and she understands the concepts of our campaign.

Can't you see how that makes this public-finance system look crooked?

I understand that criticism. But this type of marketing is unique and this is a process that would take more time to train somebody else.
Part of the art of the interview, I think, is listening to the answers you get. They always lead to more questions. Too often journalists treat their interviewees like straight men, not even bothering to process the answer. Now, many times the answer itself is not worth processing, loaded as it may be with political gibberish or good-timey aphorisms or complete dodges of the question. But I think it usually has more to do with the preset agenda of the reporter.

In this case, as I said the tone of the interview is certainly to wonder aloud where this woman's head is at, and from a start point that's entirely appropriate. But Boyles is substantively answering the first question, while the reporter continues to ask, "Don't you see how this looks bad?" Well, it only looks bad if her daughter has no business earning that money. 40 hour weeks, check. Special talent, apparently. Application to the campaign's needs? Plausibly. Before we go nuts and simply dismiss out of hand everything Boyles says, let's consider the possibility that her HS diploma-holding 16 year old daughter may have provided high technical skills on an ongoing basis...and then let's ask some more questions to convince ourselves one way or the other. Is she pushing customized content to hundreds of information providers, or is she googling "Emilie Boyles" over and over?

This morning Metroblogging Portland undertook the same scrutiny of Boyles' expenditure sheets, and comes away highly skeptical...but again, reaching conclusions without asking any questions. B!x adds some real journalism to the mix by investigating what kind of internet presence Boyles has, but that may not be all Boyles is referring to. Additionally, if B!x doesn't read Slavic languages, he may have missed some of the likely outlets for her information. Maybe Emilie counts one email address as an "avenue for information." I don't know. And it's certainly worth asking.

Well by God, someone with both the ability and the authority to ask, is asking. Whether spurred by the fuss or intending to monitor this part of the process all along, Auditor Blackmer sure doesn't sound like he's messing around at this point:
Auditor Gary Blackmer says Portland City Council candidate Emilie Boyles will have a hard time proving that her 16-year-old daughter earned the $12,500 Boyles paid her for campaign work -- and, as a result, Boyles might have a hard time keeping $145,000 in taxpayer money.
"I love my daughter, but I wouldn't pay her $12,500. And she's 20," Blackmer said. "We're going to expect a resume that shows that those people are being paid at fair market value."
Should Boyles and the others be subject to a high degree of scrutiny, and held liable for any violations to the point where one gaffe costs you your warchest? Absolutely. And that's why they should still call it "clean money." The whole idea that it presupposed other money to be dirty always seemed like a copout to me. It's not that other candidates are dirty by comparison, it's that when properly policed like this, we can be confident THESE candidates are squeaky clean.

Don't think so? Ask yourself when Blackmer's going to audit Ginny Burdick's cashflow. Is he going to want to see the "office supplies" bought from an EBay doillie store? Is he going to wonder to whom all those phone calls went? Will he ask to see all the electric staplers, photo printers and other "fixed assets" she buys? Of course not, because Blackmer doesn't hold the purse strings on Burdick, and frankly no one does. Sure, she's subject to broad state campaign contribution and expenditure rules, but with nowhere near the line-item overview. And even then, at most you have to give back the money or reimburse the campaign and pay a fine. You don't lose the other 800 grand you have socked away.

Does this make Burdick a dirty candidate? Despite some of our suspicions, no. But you know what? If Amanda Fritz, Erik Sten and yes, even Emilie Boyles survive the close inspection of their use of public dollars, you can make a strong bet that they are NOT dirty candidates. And it's well worth a few hundred thousand of those public dollars to be able to pick out the candidates you know AREN'T corrupt. Maybe the hormones in tomatoes won't kill you, but I'd rather limit my selection to those that are certified hormone-free. Paying for that knowledge is well worth the cost, and that's exactly how we should view the cost of clean money: candidate certification. And so in the long run of things, if Emilie Boyles may kill campaign finance, Gary Blackmer may well save it.