Thursday, January 3, 2013

Indiana State Senator Proposes Public Disclosure of Precinct Committeemen

A pet peeve of mine for years is how the local county party chairmen keep the list of precinct committeemen a closely-guarded secret.  The names, addresses and contact information of people serving as party precinct committeemen (PCs) is only revealed in Marion County when you pay a slating fee to run for party endorsement.  Even then, you only get the list of PCs if the county chairman feels like giving it to you.
Sen. Jim Banks

Years ago we had statutes governing the county chairmen's election by the PCs, which statutes required the county chairmen to provide to the Clerk a list of the PCs eligible to vote.  But early on the county chairmen found a loophole in that law - while the statute required the disclosure of names, it didn't require the disclosure of anything else.  So the county chairmen would provide a list of people who were said to be PCs without any other information.  That made the public disclosure virtually useless because, even if you decided to challenge the county chairmen, you didn't have the information to contact the people voting at the convention.

At slating, once you pay your slating fee (which for Marion County Republican judge candidates ends up being almost $25,000 apiece) you generally get better information...names, address, phone numbers.  But the lists are inevitably filled with those who are, in the words of Rex Early "mummy dummies," people appointed to fill a PC vacancy solely to "vote" the right way (the way the county chairman wants) at slating, vacancy elections, and county conventions.  During the last Marion County slating over 82% of the people eligible to vote on endorsements were not elected PCs, but rather direct appointees of the county chairman.

Many of the statutes that used to govern PCs and the election of county chairmen have been repealed and replaced by party rules. That has led to even less transparency and fairness.  While parties leaders like that, in the end it hurts the grass roots of the parties and the democratic process.

I have often made the argument that the names of the PCs are, and their contact information should be public record.  From a legal standpoint, I think they would be declared as such if the if the issue were ever litigated.  A PC position is an elected position and, for those so elected, their names and addresses are, in fact, public record.  Even when a person is appointed to the position, that doesn't change the status of the position being an elected position.  The same rules generally apply to those elected to their positions as to those appointed to fill an elected position.

Fortunately, Republican Senator Jim Banks has seen the same problem and filed Senate Bill 37 to address it.  Below is the synopsis of the bill:
Precinct committeemen. Requires the county chairman of a major political party to submit, not later than July 1 each year, to the county election board the name and address of the party's precinct committeeman and vice committeeman for each precinct in the county. Requires the county chairman to update the information provided not later than seven days after a change occurs. Provides that the information is open for public inspection and copying in the same manner as other public records. Provides for a civil penalty of $50 for failure to submit the required information. Provides that civil penalties collected are to be deposited in the campaign finance enforcement account.
Of course, with only $50 fine, the local parties here will be more than happy to pay to avoid disclosure.  I highly doubt the three person Marion County Election Board, made up of two people appointed by the county chairmen, is going to fine a county chairman any more than the statutory minimum, even if the board decides to follow the law.  Heck, the Board might not enforce the law at all.  This after all is the same election board, made up of three attorney, which voted unanimously to seize a non-slated candidates literature in a primary contest in direct violation of a federal court injunction against the Board's enforcement of the anti-slate law which had been deemed unconstitutional.

Still I applaud Senator Banks on taking a step toward addressing a problem that should have been addressed a long time ago.


Bob Cardwell said...

I think this is a wonderful idea! I too have see have these appointed precinct committee person often do the chairperson's desire and not the peoples.

Cato said...

Here's a better law:

IC 3-1-1
Neither the state nor any city, town, village, municipality or any other government body, election, office, meeting or other official proceeding shall acknowledge, record or note any political party or the party membership of any citizen, candidate or officeholder.

Repeal the rest of the title with the exception of the guy with the most votes wins.

christmas6 said...

Cato - you're closer to the founding principles there! I like it.

Pete Boggs said...

If the the Republican Party, is to survive, they'll engage in a legitimate selection process; vs. more phoney baloney.