Campaign finance reports should not be a puzzle
Here's a word that all candidates for public office should display prominently in their campaign headquarters when it comes to the solicitation of campaign contributions: transparency. If John Q. Public can't look at a contribution, understand it, and, most importantly, believe it, then it isn't transparent.
There should be no secrets, intrigue or uncertainty with regard to how the men and women who want voters to trust them handle their campaign finances. Every dollar received must have a name of a person or organization attached to it. And every dollar spent must reflect the true nature of the expenditure. It's that simple.
We have adopted this seemingly extreme position after reading the court testimony of various former public officials relating to the flow of money in and out of political campaigns, after watching the case of Trumbull County Sheriff Thomas Altiere, and after reading the front page story in last Sunday's Vindicator headlined, "Not revealing donors brings political woes."
Given that politics at every level has become a high-stakes money game, we believe the laws governing the behavior of candidates and contributors are inadequate. But since it is unlikely that full disclosure will become the rule any time soon, we urge individuals running for local offices to lead the charge and embrace a stricter standard.
Betrayal: Why? Because the voters in the Mahoning Valley have been betrayed for too long by candidates and officeholders who have either blatantly violated laws governing campaign finances or have used the system to be less than forthcoming in their reports.
When Judith Sheerer, a member of the Ohio Elections Commission, told Sheriff Altiere, "I think your behavior has been reprehensible," she was expressing the opinion of many area residents who cannot accept the fact that the county's chief lawman "didn't know" the laws.
The elections commission found that Altiere and his campaign committee had violated state campaign finance laws and fined each $2,500. The committee was also ordered to pay $8,500 to the Trumbull County Board of Elections. And, the campaign reports from 1999 and 2000 must be brought up to compliance.
But it isn't just the sheriff who has had such a cavalier attitude toward the reporting of campaign contributions. While Altiere was harshly criticized for failing to provide the board of elections with the names of the individuals he says gave him contributions of less than $25, we would suggest that he is not alone in not maintaining a complete list of contributors. State law does not require a candidate to submit the names of the less-than-$25 donors, but a list must be kept and be available for public review.
We believe state law gives candidates too much leeway. What is wrong with simply requiring the name of every person who has contributed to a campaign to be submitted to the board of elections?
Seeing as how thousands of dollars are collected through fund-raisers for which the tickets cost less than $25 each, as the Sunday Vindicator story pointed out, we think full disclosure is in order. The view that such fund-raisers are nothing more than a way for candidates to hide the true sources of their campaign contributions will remain so long as there isn't transparency.