Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Marion County Referenda and the Need for the Indiana General Assembly to Consider Election Reform

This election should give legislators much to consider in the way of referenda election law reforms. First, it is apparent that the stunt Health & Hospital was able to pull by holding a referendum without telling voters in the question what they were doing or how much they were borrowing, should never be allowed again. I know how legislative bodies work and know that many legislators probably had no idea that was buried in the massive budget bill. But the legislature needs to be more vigilant about protecting the fairness and integrity of the referenda process. Voters have a right to be informed, in the referendum question, about what they are voting on.

Second, the legislature needs to put an end to these off-year referenda. Obviously this was part of a deliberate political strategy to take advantage of low turnout in an off-year election. It is unfair though to put election workers and voters through a needless election. That's not even to mention the cost to the taxpayers for the election.

Third, the legislature needs to take a very close look at proponents of these referenda who used public, i.e. taxpayer, resources to promote a "yes" vote. The Mayor used the city's email to promote Wishard. The Chancellor at IUPUI used the public university's website and email to promote Wishard. School officials were sending home material with children in support of their referenda and were using school resources to promote them.

Finally, the legislature needs to take a close look at what the Wishard PAC's did on its campaign finance report, which only listed three individual contributors but two contributions from non-profits of over $1 million dollars. It is apparent from the report that the Wishard PAC was using the two non-profits to funnel contributions through. That hides the names of the contributors and arguably makes non-deductible political contributions deductible. Likewise, on the spending side, the Wishard PAC sole expenditure was to a PR firm. Again, the Wishard PAC was simply using an entity to hide the vendors paid out of campaign funds.

The Wishard folks did not invent this practice. You are seeing it increasingly in candidate finance reports, usually though just on the expenditure side. The public has the right to know who is contributing to the campaign and who is receiving the campaign money that is spent. Using a PR firm to pay the campaign's bills is just a clever way to get around the rule and disguise who is getting campaign dollars. Our legislature needs to put a stop to the practice or it will continue to spread.

1 comment:

Downtown Indy said...

Getting people to actually bother voting would be remarkable all by itself. Maybe the iPhone needs 'an app for that.'

Given the way Wishard's current facilities was described by Gutwein and all the supporters, it leaves me wondering what IU would possibly want with it and are they now about to be stuck with a massive environmental cleanup bill? Who will pay for that?