OUR VIEW: Campaign finance for city should be no-brainerAt virtually every level of government except the municipal level, campaign finance reports have become an accepted part of life. As Councilman Mel Olson said, “disclosure’s here to stay,” and it’s long past time our City Council got on board.
At virtually every level of government except the municipal level, campaign finance reports have become an accepted part of life.
If you reside in Mitchell, you must file campaign finance reports if you seek a school board seat, a county commission seat, a county office such as auditor, a seat in the state Legislature, a state office such as secretary of state or a seat in Congress. You also must file campaign finance reports if you operate a statewide ballot-issue campaign.
But if you run for a seat on the Mitchell City Council or run a city ballot-issue campaign, you don’t have to file a campaign finance report.
Why the exception? We have no earthly idea. It’s an exception that should be eliminated, because we all know transparency in campaign finance is good for democracy.
At least we thought we all knew that. Tuesday night, when local City Councilman Mel Olson broached the topic of campaign finance reporting for the second time in recent months, you’d have thought he asked some of the other council members to strip naked and parade themselves down Main Street. Under a barrage of criticism, Olson’s proposal stalled again and appears no closer to being adopted.
We’re incredibly disappointed that some members of the council have chosen to make a mountain out of this molehill.
Councilman Dan Allen said at a past meeting and reiterated Tuesday that he doesn’t think it’s “anybody’s business” where he gets his campaign money. Actually, it’s the business of everybody in his ward. The source of a candidate’s or ballot committee’s campaign cash is valuable information that voters should use to gauge the ways in which candidates or committees may be influenced by special interests.
Councilman Phil Carlson said there’s no public outrcy for campaign finance reporting at the city level. We have two thoughts on that: 1) We get calls and emails every time there is a controversial city election from people wondering who is financially backing each side of the debate. When we tell these people that such disclosure is not required, they’re invariably stunned. 2) Since when has the council required a public outcry to act? We don’t recall an outcry from local residents demanding they be billed for sidewalk improvements; in fact, we recall the opposite. Yet the council has rightly continued with an aggressive sidewalk campaign begun in recent years, not because it was sought by the public, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Perhaps the thinnest argument came from an audience member who indicated the addition of a campaign finance form would heap an unnecessary burden on candidates. Apparently, going door-to-door to collect the dozens of petition signatures necessary to get on the ballot is not a burden, attending two nighttime council meetings per month is not a burden, and dealing with weekly constituent complaints is not a burden. Yet we’re supposed to believe that filling out one extra form every three years would be a terrible hardship?
Give us a break. As Councilman Mel Olson said, “disclosure’s here to stay,” and it’s long past time our City Council got on board.