Friday, July 09, 2010

Foley, Griebel Question SEEC Decision

This is how the Courant wrote up the SEEC decision released on Thursday:

“The State Elections Enforcement Commission voted unanimously Thursday to award the grant to the combined committee of Fedele and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who are running as a team. Under the law, the money is awarded to the committee as ‘a single grant, which can be used to benefit both candidates,'’ according to the commission.”
That report is correct as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Actually, the State Elections Enforcement Commission broke new ground in its interpretation of the state statute that gives the commission the authority to disperse tax dollars to primary challengers. The commission’s ruling means that any two people, not nominated as a legitimate combination by the relevant party nominating apparatus, may join together as a team for the purpose of acquiring tax money to run their joint campaign.

Fedele had been having some difficulty raising the threshold amount necessary to trigger public financing until Boughton dumped the funds he had accumulated into Fedele’s piggy bank. The SEEC decision authorizes this practice when two politicians decide to run as a team, even though their nominating conventions have not sanctioned a joint campaign by nominating the team as a statutorily legitimate combination.

If all this seems fishy, it may be because the process gives off an odor of a mackerel stinking in the moonlight. The decision considerably advances the interest of the SEEC, which is charged with disbursing funds. Although both Oz Griebel and Foley are questioning the decision, a final resolution concerning the decision will be made long after the funds have been dispersed.

9 comments:

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

Dammit Don, I keep hoping to comment on one of your posts, and then the story changes.

Don Pesci said...

Right. You can imagine how I feel. The changing tide has destroyed many a good finished column. But that’s life: the best made columns of mice and men… and all that, you know.

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

One thing Tom Foley is definitely right about, is CEP's inherent bias toward participating candidates.

Let's pretend neither of us have overall philosophical disagreements with CEP, and in fact wholeheartedly support the program. There are only two possible rationales for doing so (I'm going to leave out the "leveling the playing field" rationale which is just so idiotic it shouldn't even be discussed).

1. We believe that publik funding will allow more candidates to run office, and more candidates to choose from is always better.

2. Special interest money is dirty dirty dirty, and large donations from individual donors is dirty dirty dirty. Since candidates participating in CEP are not able to accept either special interest money OR large individual contributions, they will be less dirty when elected than someone who does take that sort of money and is obviously influenced by it.

So.... let's see which of these goals we've accomplished. Did we accomplish goal number one? NO. Why? Because Mike Fedele and Dan Malloy would both be running regardless of whether CEP existed. The plain fact of the matter is that people who want to run for office will run for office. No one woke up the day after CEP was created and exclaimed, "Dangnabbit!, the costs of running were too prohibitive before but now that I can just go get 100 dollar donations from 2,500 friends and qualify for publik money, I think I'll run by golly!"

Did we accomplish goal number two? Well, kind of, but also kind of not. Yes, publik funding keeps public interest money and large individual donations out of candidates purses. But all of that isn't worth diddly squat if that candidate doesn't get elected. Imagine the euphoria down at the SEEC... "YAY! We kept special interest money out of the losing campaign that isn't in a position of power now."

So goal number two is predicated on the candidates who participate in publik financing getting elected in the first place. Because if that candidate loses, we're about as well off as if we had simply burned all the money.

Don Pesci said...
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Don Pesci said...
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Don Pesci said...
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Don Pesci said...

Fuzzy,

Very good. You should take over the country.

And there is also number 3. From the hidden premises that lurk behind your analysis, one would suppose that large contributions to politicians would buy their fealty. Surprising as it may seem, more Wall Street money went to Democrats, the enemy of Big Business, than to Republicans during the last election cycle. In fact, over a period of, say, 40 years, campaign contributions from the malefactors of great wealth were split pretty evenly among the parties. Unions gave overwhelmingly to Democrats. All this is a matter of record, carefully compiled by the guy who once wrote a column called “To The Businessmen Sitting In Darkness,” questioning why such sado-masochists were so eager to give campaign donations to congressmen like Barack Obama, (ahem) Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. That would be me. The premise – money buys favors; more money buys more favors -- it would seem, is somewhat screwy, except as concerns unions; they know which side their bread is buttered on. Money buys status, which does not automatically translate into favors, and not because politicians are incorruptible. They go the way of all human flesh. Lobbyists are a different kettle of fish, different ball game, apples not oranges. Lobbyists are necessary because a) most politicians are economic idiots (just look around) and need an angel or two sitting on their shoulders when they write bills that would make a Hugo Chavez dance for joy in the congressional aisles, and b) lobbyists increase in number and influence in exact proportion to the number of punishing bills written by idiots. We don’t want to forget these little subtleties when we talk about campaign finance regulation, which regulates only the speed at which incumbents get re-elected.

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

I think it's almost more personal than that Don. One might wonder: Is a person participating in CEP essentially conceding that they are personally incapable of not being influenced by campaign contributors? You get the feeling that the participants simply do not trust themselves; like an alcoholic who stays away from bars, do they simply know themselves too well?

Which brings me back to a point I made months ago. It is the height of irony that CEP was passed largely in response to Rowland era abuses of power; and yet, it does nothing to prevent the sort of abuses Rowland committed, and in fact only increases the liklihood of special interest bribery taking place.

Rowland and his cronies were accused of flat out bribery. How does CEP protect against that?

Moreover, special interests will not simply throw their hands up in the air and say "We give up, you've won!" No, they will look for other ways to influence participants. In some cases, this will simply skirt the spirit of the law.. a CEO who's entire family bundles 100 dollar donations, or a business or nonprofit that gives a candidates spouse a cushy job. And, regrettably, there will no doubt be more extreme cases of out and out bribery, involving dinners, wine, limo rides and bullion.

CEP is naive to the realities of the world. Politicians have philandered since Remus and Romulus first set eyes on Palatine Hill. And they will continue to long after we are all dead and gone. No taxpayer funded campaign will ever solve the problem.

Don Pesci said...

I agree.

You raise an interesting question: “Is a person participating in CEP essentially conceding that they are personally incapable of not being influenced by campaign contributors? You get the feeling that the participants simply do not trust themselves; like an alcoholic who stays away from bars, do they simply know themselves too well?”

A similar question was put to Dodd before the corruption piñata broke over his head. His answer to the question was that he never tailored a bill to contributions he had received. And his tone of reply at the time suggested that he considered the question impertinent: HE KNEW WHY HE VOTED FOR THIS OR THAT MEASURE, and those who wished to make a connection between the receipt of campaign funds and specific legislation DID NOT.

But was there a connection? Only the angels of his better nature know for sure. He and 99% of other incumbents probably would say that coincidences can always be interpreted in a malicious way.

The sort of people who favor such constitutionally dubious legislation certainly believe that there is a direct correlation between campaign funding and bill writing. They also believe, absurdly, that public funding will even the scales. And the sort of people who accept public funding may believe both as well.

Your analysis is right. Even with such a system in place, corruption will continue, because the relationship between the public financing of campaigns and virtue is tenuous at best. You can’t legislate virtue, and Somers prison is full of people whose mother’s believe they are virtuous.

Rowland speaks about this intelligently – now.

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