Monday, May 09, 2005

Oppo Guys To Do Own Legwork Again

Since the FPPC is too busy to generate the good ammo.

From the L.A. Times (via The Roundup), understaffed, overworked FPPC has huge case backog with little relief in sight. Complaints aren't investigated, fines aren't collected, and paperwork unsavvy city councilmembers are still roaming California streets freely. Parents, lock up your children.

But even if efficiently enforced, do the laws accomplish . . . anything?

For example, the article lists gives the example of a $400 fine paid by actress Rhea Perlman for failing to file a major donor report required because of her family's $10,000 contribution to Californians for Schwarzenegger.

Let's see: a $400 fine for someone who could afford to donate $10,000. Yup, that'll learn 'em. The $263,000 fine for Cruz Bustamante's violations - $4 million worth of violations - is more of a chunk - but what's the harm? By that, I mean, do the fines deter any behavior? Perlman might have been annoyed, but she wasn't strapped for cash. And if that $10,000 donation made the difference - if Arnold just had to have that $10k to pay for the TV ad that made the difference - then why worry about compliance at all? Let alone timely compliance.

The failure to file a timely major donor report isn't as great an evil as violating campaign contribution or expenditure limits - but those fines are equally questionable. So you pay a fine later - big deal. If you win, you still get to hold office (unless you get nabbed under some reallllly awful violation of the laws - up to fraud level and then we have impeachment, etc etc).

If the goals here are strict compliance with the law and prompt disclosure, why not scrap almost all of the FPPC and put that budget toward building a really good computer system. I'm thinking a paypal-ish model: all candidates get their own fund. To donate, you have to run money through this computerized database (yes, treasurers could collect checks, etc, so no digital divide would prevent civic participation) and it would immediately require the input of information required by major donor (or other donors) and would simply disallow submission of a donation that would exceed someone's statutorily permitted contribution amount. It'd be an algorithm thing. No clerical errors. No delays. No excuses.

[And yeah, most candidates have to use law firms or professional treasurers anyway because we've made this SO COMPLICATED that a local office-seeker would be nuts not to protect him or herself from adverse actions easily avoided by someone adept at hoop-jumping. Nice industry we've created. Not that I'm in any position to complain.]

Candidates would likewise have to pay out of these accounts that have very strict input controls. Yes, the output would be trickier - maybe they'd all have campaign debit cards - no self-reimbursing - everything is done What-Not-To-Wear Style, prepaid Visa in hand, Joe Council-Candidate uses the card to pay Sally Sign-Maker and everyone's happy.

The candidate could still, of course, dump as much of his or her own money in as needed.

I know there are about a thousand holes in this idea - and I also know of at least 3 political lawyers who read this blog - so you see the comments button down there: use it.

Someone make me a good argument for saving the FPPC as it currently exists.

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