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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Campaign finance: Burgess' turn to feel the heat

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Well, we all saw this one coming. As first reported here this morning, city councilor Ricky Burgess is characterizing his failure to file a campaign finance report as a gesture of protest. But inevitably, someone was going to ask what he was really hiding.

And now one of his rivals in city council, Lucille Prater-Holliday, is blasting at Burgess in a statement just released: 

Today, Ricky Burgess introduced legislation to repeal the City's campaign finance reform legislation, and has said that he will refuse to disclose who is financing his campaign, as the law requires. The question is 'Why?'

Burgess' reactionary legislation is yet another unfortunate example of his abuse of the legislative process to the detriment of those in the district.

This is an insult to every single voter in my district.

I am proud of the broad base of support that my campaign has received. I am proud that the majority of donors to my campaign give small amounts. I am proud to have the support of neighbors in my district who want to see change, who want to see good jobs, safe and affordable housing, and good government.

From the first day that I am sworn into City Council, my office will be run with openness and transparency. I expect to be held to the high standard of integrity that our district deserves.

My neighbors deserve no less than those who live in every other district in the City.

We deserve full disclosure as to who is writing large checks to Burgess' campaign. With the election just one week away, what does he have to hide?

Our friends at Early Returns (congrats on the Quill, fellas!) note that Burgess' strategy is not without risk: At least on paper, state election law has some tough language, forever barring a politician from holding public office if he knowingly violates state election law. The city councilors Burgess has denounced have much less to lose. First, at worst they're only violating a city ordinance -- one Burgess himself says is unenforceable. Second, even if you disagree with their actions, there is at least a case that could be made for why they are not, in fact, actually violating it at all.

Burgess, by contrast, makes no bones about what he's doing. In his statement, he flat-out acknowledges:

Moreover, I have withheld the remainder of my Campaign expense report as an act of protest. Candidates should not be able to pick and choose what laws they obey.

Legal issues aside, consider the paradox of those two sentences. Ricky Burgess is picking and choosing which laws to obey ... to illustrate his argument that candidates should not pick and choose what laws they obey. 

Is any of this going to affect the course of these council elections? I doubt it. Some of the same people who are contacting me now -- and complaining about how some city councilors are "violating the spirit" of the campaign finance ordinance -- were people who scoffed at the ordinance back when it was passed. They thought it was too much inside-baseball, the stuff that was of interest only to goody-two-shoes progressives who'd lost touch with what was truly important to city voters. I suspected they were right then (which isn't to say I thought campaign-finance reform was a bad thing). I still think they're right now.

 

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