Monday, October 30, 2006

M46/47: Do was we say, not as we do

There's been a lot of back and forth here at LO about Measures 46-47. The proponents have argued their case here vigorously. And yet we remain unmoved in our opposition to these Measures.

I spent some time last week checking out the C&E reports for 46 & 47. I came across some pretty interesting stuff.

One of 47's redeeming qualities is that it has tough disclosure laws. I'm a firm believer in that. However, we have disclosure laws here already. And its apparent to me that the folks behind 46 & 47 are violating the spirit of these laws.

According to my visit with the folks down at the Secretary of State's office, each ballot measure is required to have its own PAC. Each PAC is required to report its contributions and expenditures so that citizens can follow the money.

Only that's a little tough to do. The four reports for each of 46 and 47's PACs have basically two sources of incoming revenue: Democracy's Edge Action Fund (a non-profit that isn't required to report its revenue sources) and a miscellaneous PAC called Money Is Not Democracy or MIND#4630--the two PACs for the measures are also called Money Is Not Democracy. But they're numbered differently to delineate them.

MIND #4630 is the same group of people that maintain the other two PACs, by the way.

(Yes, its very confusing. Yes it makes it extremely difficult to understand what's going on.)

Here are the reports for the 46/47 PACs:

MIND #5039

July 2006 May 2006 February 2006 September 2006

MIND #5090

July 2006 May 2006 February 2006 September 2006.

In order to find out who is actually giving at least some of the money to these Measures, you have to then go through another hoop. Since we can't know who is giving money to Democracy's Edge Action Fund, we can only check the other revenue source, MIND #4630.

MIND #4630 is required to report its contributors. The problem is, they don't report at the same time that the other PACS do because they're not the designated initiative/measure PAC. So we have to wait until their reporting time in order to find out who is funding them.

This is perfectly legal, incidentally. But for a group of people who claim the moral high ground when it comes to campaign finance reform, skirting the spirit of the law by making citizens sift through several layers seems somewhat less than morally/ethically superior. According to my chat with the folks down at the Secretary of State's office, that's the spirit of the current law, anyway.

Its also the spirit of the law according to Sarah at Money In Politics Research Action Project. When I spoke with her last week, she agreed that the spirit of these current disclosure laws is to allow citizens to keep track of the money. While I have no evidence that there is a concerted and deliberate attempt to hide their donors, it is odd that the folks surrounding 46/47 are so concerned about campaign financing while making it so difficult to find out who is funding them.

According to my chat with Becky Miller, this isn't unlike what Bill Sizemore used to do as well. Sizemore was funding all sorts of initiatives and measures, funneling funds through from one or two places. Miller believes Sizemore was deliberately trying to hide his donors, however. As I said, I have no direct evidence that the 46/47 are deliberately doing that. They're merely making us jump through the legal extra hoops in order to dig up who is funding them.

One of our chief complaints is the complexity of Measure 47, for which we have been repeatedly chided by proponents in comments. We shouldn't be voting against campaign finance reform because its complicated, we're told.

That might seem like a fair argument. Sometimes law is complex. But 47 is highly punitive if a campaign screws up the requirements.

But smart people can figure out campaign laws, right? After all, if they can write highly legalistic ballot measures, they can certainly follow the current laws which are also complex.

Only perhaps not. MIND #4630 actually filed one of its campaign contribution and expenditure reports two days late. According to the Secretary of State's office, they'll have a roughly $10,000 fine levied against them. The SOS is very clear on when the reports for these PACs are supposed to be turned in. As I understand it from speaking with their office, they even send out mailed reminders.

So not only did #4630 file late, their reporting requirement is different that the actual PACs for the Measure, making it that much more difficult to follow their money.

In addition, the petitioners of 46/47 tried to file #4630's reports during the primary. This is outside the rules as well. Based on my chat with the SOS, #4630 wasn't the designated PAC for the initiatives--so they couldn't file.

According to my chats with Sarah at MiPRAP and Becky Miller, they could still have disclosed to the public without filing. Becky noted that if a campaign was really all about allowing the public to follow their money, they'd simply disclose their funding in a press release. Sarah noted that this type of press disclosure has happened before with other campaigns. That never happened for these Measures.

We've been told by the supporters of 46/47 that we should trust that they know what they're doing. That these Measures are going to fix campaign finance reform in Oregon.

Color me skeptical. If they can't follow the spirit and the letter of the laws already in place--I don't see how we can trust in their "fix".