Good government groups including Common Cause authored a harsh letter to President Obama, admonishing him for failing to impact what the seven groups described as the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system.
Other signatories to the letter—Americans for Campaign Reform, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters and Public Citizen—were likewise disappointed in the president who said, in 2008, that he wanted to change the tone in Washington but who has largely been unable to affect the change he ran on four years ago and again last year.
While this gaggle of groups has been active at the national level, locally, Common Cause Ohio is miffed with why legislative leaders in Columbus apparently reversed position on Internet cafes, private, unregulated gaming parlors that have spread like wildfire, in a matter of hours after having previously said a decision was off in the distance.
The buck starts where?
With Republicans in control of the House and in possession of the filibuster in the Senate, big money is in no danger of being banished from American politics, a not surprising analysis made Tuesday by Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin.
“The White House thus sees this issue as heads, Republicans win, tails, Democrats lose,” Eilperin wrote, adding, “They’ll never get the votes to truly change campaign-finance laws. But along the way, they’ll attack the system in ways that will make them look like hypocrites for participating in it.”
Bill Burton, head of Priorities USA, the pro-Obama superPAC, said that “our system is broken and the Democratic Party should be spearheading reform. However, until campaign-finance reform is a reality, the party of reform should not be one of perpetual loss.”
According to these good government groups, today’s Democratic Party is not the party of campaign-finance reform in a serious way. As one Washington pundit put it, these groups “favor it abstractly, but with the exception of relatively modest laws meant to roll back the effects of Citizens United and its related rulings, they expend no political capital or intellectual energy on the topic. Washington is safe. Democracy less so.”
Ohio: A case study
In Ohio, the beat of disappointment with how business in the General Assembly is transacted continues, as one long-time Capital Square ethics and transparency watcher weighs-in on how positions have shifted on so-called Internet “sweepstakes” cafes.
“Fraught with Peril,” as seen by Catherine Turner, who directed Ohio Citizen Action’s “Money in Politics Program” until it was discontinued last year, is a clear demonstration of why money continues to drive decisions in Columbus.
“Ohioans deserve more transparency and greater access to information,” Turcer wrote in a email Tuesday, about why thinking in the Ohio Senate on Internet Cafes has traveled a twisted road in such short order.
Turner questions why Ohio Senate President Keith Faber went from backing a moratorium on Internet cafes in the state, and pledging to return recent contributions from those associated with the Internet cafe industry, to a sudden reversal of that position. Turcer, a policy analyst for Common Cause, questioned how gaming campaign contributions for the 130th General Assembly could become tainted while no mention of the same contributions during previous sessions was made.
Faber said that after meeting recently with law enforcement officials, all of whom are Republicans, his caucus suddenly came upon the information it needed to make a decision on whether to ban sweepstakes parlors or not. Advocates like Turner and others attribute the fast turnaround to a brew of both campaign contributions and potential political trouble ahead.
“I see the legislative process itself as ‘fraught with peril,'” she said. “Ohioans deserve more transparency and greater access to information so that they can better understand the decisions that are made at the Statehouse.”
Turcer wants to know what kind of information was given to President Faber and members that would change Senate direction so quickly? “I think the people of Ohio deserve the answer.”
Reports indicate the Ohio Senate plans to rush a new moratorium on the opening and expansion of so-called Internet “sweepstakes” cafes to the floor this week as part of a renewed effort to put them out of business.
On the same point as Turcer, an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said Senate Republicans demonstrated last week how things really work in Columbus. “And it’s not a chapter in that book of light fiction known as ‘How a Bill Becomes Law.'”
One Democratic state senator has even proposed letting voters decide whether Internet cafes should be allowed in Ohio.
Turcer’s call for more transparency is not new. She believes Ohio would be better served if there were more transparency in secret caucus meetings; and better disclosure of lobbyist activities and campaign contributions. For the very reasons she cites, this will never happen. Strengthening her line of attack, she notes that there have been 90 publicized fundraisers since the beginning of the year, and that four more are scheduled for Tuesday.
There are only two campaign finance filings during off-election years, she notes, and none during the biennial budget process, which is usually contentious while being ripe for influence peddling. The next campaign finance filing is due July 31.
The problem, as Turcer sees it, is that the Ohio General Assembly establishes campaign finance law as well as the laws that govern public meetings and public records. “They regulate themselves and are responsible for the inadequate information the public gets during the legislative process,” she said, adding, “It’s truly the foxes guarding the henhouse in Ohio.”
“Important decisions that impact the daily lives of Ohioans are made in secret when our state legislators caucus. We will not be able to ‘follow the money’ until after the legislature has left for summer break,” Turcer said. She called for a release of the information provided to the caucus from law enforcement officials; and a tally and timeline for return of contributions.
“What precipitated this reversal? When we learn the answer, we’ll be one step closer to a more transparent and responsible state government,” Turner, a policy analyst for
Back in DC
In Washington, a meeting today by the Federal Election Commission could serve as prima fascia evidence that President Obama has been lax in keeping his commitment to the cause of public eyes seeing inside government. A sixth seat on the FEC remains vacant and the White House has not made a nomination in more than three years to the agency that enforces the nation’s campaign finance laws.
Obama is taking flak from good government types for failing to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court opinion that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on politics and for not filling a position overseeing ethics and lobbying issues that President Obama said with fanfare he would do upon assuming office in 2009.
The White House, via a spokesman, countered, saying the administration “has taken historic steps to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics.” Eric Schultz said the president has done more in the past four years to close the revolving door of special-interest influence than any president before him.”
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