Thursday, September 20, 2012

Real Time Campaign Finance (Thursday LINKS)

Earlier this week, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot proposed a new system of "real-time campaign finance", paid for by increased filing fees and penalties, for all state and local campaigns.  This system would allow any motivated citizen to look-up who is financially supporting his or her legislator and make conclusions about their "real-time votes" on a comparative basis.

Under the present system, we all are permitted that same comparative deduction, but it is often delayed months, if not years, from the time the vote is cast.  For most non-election years, campaign finance reports are not due until the second or third week of January, flooding the spreadsheets with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of contributions ranging in amount from $25 to $2,500.  It can take hours to sort through this data to find duplicates or triplicates of donations, making the $200 a breadcrumb of something much more.  More importantly, this flooding of the system effectively places an even larger burden on any citizen interested in making a comparative look between a particular vote and simultaneous contribution.

And that's not to say "endorsement contributions" are innately unethical or wrong.  If you support something I care about in Annapolis, it is reasonable to suppose that I will contribute towards your re-election.  There will never be a campaign finance database that elucidates quid pro quo.  Those conclusions will be left to the subjective views of voters.

Here's the rub: Increased regulation on politicians is pretty much a non-starter.  There are no monied interests supporting this initiative, little in the way of public outcry, and the manner in which the idea is being presented comes across as political opportunism. 

That's why we need a guinea pig.  A populist idea with little opportunity for success can be expected to live out one week in the news, if that.  It is easy fodder for op/ed columns and bloggers, but with three months before the legislative session, there is no momentum to carry it to the General Assembly.  But what if a candidate unilaterally began real-time campaign finance reporting? 

"From this moment until the day I leave public service, I will be making all of my campaign finance reports available to all of you via my website in real-time as they are received.  I am an open book.  I can honestly tell you that I have never cast one vote that was purchased with a campaign contribution, but now you will have no reason to doubt.  I encourage my colleagues to do the same, but I know that is a fruitless invitation.  I expect real-time reporting to be a disadvantage in the muck of political attack ads, but an advantage amongst those of you who still see honor in government."

Honor in government.  I truly believe that one day we will see a politician that does more than talk about it.


The Orioles add to their season of extras with a sweep of Seattle after an 11-inning 3-1 win last night.  Sadly, the Yankees won both games in the double-header, putting the O's a half game back from the AL East title.  However, with an Oakland loss, the O's took the pole spot for the AL Wild-card and have a half game buffer over the pesky Athletics.

One in four residents of Baltimore are below the poverty level.  "The federal standards for poverty count those who earn less than $11,500 for a single person and $23,000 for a family of four."  Living the high life on the government dole, I presume.

Meanwhile, those efforts to revitalize City neighborhoods have been sunk with devalued tax credits and a loss of federal and state funding.  Don't worry.  Austerity will create jobs.  Just give it one or two more decades.

Here's a terrifying story out of Anne Arundel County.  After overpaying County employee pensions to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the County is now making those employees pay the money back.  This whole controversy relates to the payment of full pensions while "retired" employees continued to work part-time.  While the over-payment is concerning, the idea that these retired individuals, living in a financially tenuous condition to begin with, should have to repay tens of thousands of dollars back to the County is disturbing.  Unfortunately, "the gubment payed you too much so now you owe it back" is not all that uncommon for state and federal employees.

Columbia will have the...ambiguous honor of hosting Lance Armstrong in the Ulman Cancer Fund Half Full Triathlon this October.  Joking aside, whatever you think about Armstrong and the doping scandal, this man has done a tremendous amount of good in his fund-raising efforts to fight cancer.  The proximity to the scandal makes all of this a little awkward, but we can still appreciate a fallen hero for those things that still make him great.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane considers whether Columbia will ever be an "urban center" after watching CA's presentation of the film "Urbanized."  I believe that Columbia has significant potential and will be driven by those who choose to lead.  There can be little doubt that this County Executive has raised the profile of Columbia far beyond what we were even a decade ago (although maybe not what Columbia was four decade ago).  The biggest questions will be -- what is the vision? Who is getting it accomplished?

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!