Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to Lawfully Conceal the Source of Campaign Contributions

A modest proposal from one Ogden citizen

By Dan Schroeder

Imagine that I decide to run for city council this fall. To run a competitive campaign, I figure I’ll need about $25,000. Now I certainly don’t have enough time, or enough friends, to go around and raise that kind of money locally. Fortunately, I won’t have to, because I do have one donor who is willing to fund my campaign all by himself: Osama Bin Laden.

Now some might object to this scheme, but in fact it’s completely legal. Ogden’s campaign financing ordinance puts no limits on the size of contributions, nor does it prohibit contributions from foreign nationals.

The ordinance does, however, require that I disclose the source of my campaign funds. The idea, I guess, is that the voters have a right to know where my money is coming from. But if, for some reason, I don’t want the voters to know that my campaign is being funded by Osama Bin Laden, I can get around that in any number of ways.

The first and easiest way is simply to ask Osama to wait until late October before sending me the money. Then I won’t have to report his contribution until several weeks after the election. I can easily get most of my vendors to wait until late October before being paid, and if I need a little money sooner than that, I can just lend it to my campaign and pay myself back after Osama’s check comes in.

But that’s just the beginning. I can do much better.

Instead of having Osama write me a check directly, I can ask him to send the money to my Aunt Rose, a dear woman who would do any favor I asked. Aunt Rose will then write me a check in her own name, and I’ll report her as the source of the $25,000 campaign contribution. Then the voters will never find out where the money really came from. And according to the city attorney, this is still completely legal.

If I’d rather not bring poor Aunt Rose into it, I could instead form my own political action committee, or 527 organization as it’s known to the IRS. I think I’ll call it My New Underground Revolutionary Ensemble, or MNURE for short. I’ll never have to register this organization with the state or the city, or tell anyone at all who MNURE actually is. To avoid IRS disclosure rules I’ll have to ask Osama to limit his contribution to only $24,999. Then he writes a check to MNURE, MNURE writes a check to me, and nobody ever learns where MNURE got the money.

A variation on this scheme would be for MNURE to run my campaign on its own, paying my vendors directly. Then the voters would never even learn how much money I raised or spent. Ogden’s ordinance technically does prohibit this variation, but that part of the ordinance is unenforceable because the government can’t take away MNURE’s First Amendment right to get involved in a political campaign.

Finally, if I don’t like any of these schemes, I could simply lie: I could report that I got the money from Aunt Rose when it really came from Osama Bin Laden. Unless a citizen tracks down Aunt Rose and gets her story, I’ll never get caught. And even if I do get caught, all I have to do is amend my disclosure statement at that time and the problem will be cured--at least according to our city attorney’s interpretation of the current ordinance.

Of course that interpretation is a pure fabrication on the city attorney’s part, and at least the revised version of the ordinance that’s now before the council clarifies what the law really says. However,under the new proposed version, the city attorney would never be under any obligation to review or respond to a complaint that I’ve lied about the source of my money. And if the city attorney eventually does get around to prosecuting me, my crime is a mere infraction, punishable by a fine of no more than $500.

In the unlikely event that I’m faced with such a fine, I’m sure that my friend Osama would be happy to reimburse me for it.

Editor's note: Dan informs us that he delivered a slightly abridged version of this proposal during the Public Comments portion of last night's city council meeting. All council members were in attendance except Blain Johnson. Also in attendance were John Patterson and Gary Williams.

Update 5/27/09 8:04 a.m. MT: Today's Standard-Examiner has a brief overview of the proposed revisions to the city's ordinance:
Ogden council puts campaign finance reform on the table
Update 5/27/09 10:13 a.m. MT: Gentle Reader Dan also has a short article on this topic on own blog this morning. It seems that City Attorney Gary Williams is a mite lite in the humor department, especially when it's he who's the butt of the "joke":
Laughing at Politics
Who will be the first to comment?

37 comments:

Richard said...

The politicians will find a way to hide things.
Off topic...firefox users have to make a setting change in order to comment..
tools>>options>>privacy>>check enable third party cookies.

Curmudgeon said...

And I see by the papers that Councilman Johnson [absent yet again from a Council session] has become enough of a politician in less than half of one term to have mastered the non-answer answer. When the SE reporter Scott Schwebke asked for Johnson's comment on the proposed campaign finance ordinance, he replied: "It does clarify certain aspects."

Mr. Schwebke, doubtless recognizing Johnson's reply for the meaningless blather that it was, did the reporter's equivalent of "Say what?" and asked Mr. Johnson to explain what he meant. Johnson ducked the question and "declined to elaborate." He must be taking private lessons in obfuscation from Hizzonah, Mayor Godfrey.

Dan Schroeder said...

By the way, I really do have an Aunt Rose. But she would never launder money from Osama Bin Laden--not even for me!

althepal said...

Dan, I'm still unclear on the rationale for reducing the penalty in the ordinance from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

Can anyone enlighten us on the council's reasoning?

It makes absloutely no sense to me at all.

Monotreme said...

Al:

Perhaps because it's not council's reasoning, but Gary Williams'?

The real question is why the council would trust Mr. Williams to write a campaign finance ordinance.

I urge council members to vote this down and start over again, using independent counsel to write the ordinance.

Dan Schroeder said...

al,

The short answer is "Gary Williams".

As someone pointed out the other day, his fingerprints are all over this proposed revision.

At the meeting last night, Bill Cook gave a little history. Ogden's current ordinance dates back to 1995, when it mirrored that of Salt Lake City. Since then, Salt Lake has revised its ordinance considerably. Those revisions include limits on contributions, disclosure statements from political committees, and lowering the criminal level to an infraction. It seems that Mr. Williams dislikes the first two modifications but likes the third--and somehow talked the city council leadership into going along.

A couple months ago I had a conversation with the administrator in Salt Lake who oversees campaign finance disclosure. She told me they've never had any serious violations since she's been there, and there's certainly never been a prosecution. I would imagine that in Salt Lake, where there are many competing newspapers and other media watching the elections, the political risk of violating the ordinance is enough of an incentive to ensure good compliance. Here in Ogden, though, where the Standard-Examiner has a monopoly on the news and conveniently looks the other way when FOM's violate the law, I think we need stiff criminal penalties as a deterrent.

Dan Schroeder said...

Mono,

There probably isn't time to vote this down and then start over, if the council wants to pass something before the new campaign begins. If they're serious about closing any of the existing loopholes, they need to get their independent attorney working on this today.

BAT_girl said...

Last night's OGDEN CITY Council meeting was very entertaining indeed. The award given to Joe McQueen, who turns 90 on 5.30.09 = SAT, was worth the whole meeting. Equally delightful was Dan Schroeder's 3min. speech, printed above. So if you stayed to the BITTER END, you got to hear a reasonable OGDEN citizen make a more than reasonable suggestion as to how other Ogden citizens could raise campaign funds for 2009 Ogden City elections, and beyond. Even while following the new, improved guidelines approved by the Ogden City Council.

But to watch Joe McQueen sit through all the public comments on funding being cut for both Union Station and for the Marshall White Center...........that alone was worth the wait. Joe McQueen sat in silent vigil, while 2 foundations he has spent his life supporting, continued to be denied funding in this year's Ogden City budget. In accepting the OC Council award for being an upstanding citizen, Joe McQueen reminisced on when and how he got to Ogden. And why he had stayed. All of that centered around first playing Jazz @ Union Station and clubs all over the Wasatch Front. Later his involvement in the Marshall White center became important to him as well.

The irony that Joe McQueen @ 90 continues to play Jazz on a weekly basis at night was not missed. And that, in the daytime, he also helps take elderly citizens shopping, to DRs appointments, and other daily tasks. Many of these elderly people are younger than Joe. Many of these people use the Marshall White Center as their place for community.

How can a City and its Council give Joe McQueen an award for all he has contributed to the City of Ogden, while they refuse to give funding to the Marshall White Center and Union Station Foundation.

"The show is not the show but they who go....." Was that Dorothy Parker or Conan O'Brien?

Ozboy said...

Dan is without doubt a true Ogden treasure. Williams on the other hand is a true Ogden embarrassment who like all cockroaches gets very nervous around any light sources.

RJ Svengali said...

Razor sharp, that wit.

Rafiki said...

Dan,

I'd be careful when you claim that Osama will finace your running. With all the "scared of terrorists" REPs running around this could come back to hurt you.

Food for thought

Amy Wicks said...

BAT_girl- you wrote:
"How can a City and its Council give Joe McQueen an award for all he has contributed to the City of Ogden, while they refuse to give funding to the Marshall White Center and Union Station Foundation."

The recognition for Joe McQueen was initiated and by the City Council and awarded by the City Council.


The FY 2010 budget zeroing out funding for the Marshall White Center and discontinuing an annual contribution to Union Station is the Mayor's proposal. The Mayor prepares a tentative budget and submits it to the City Council the first week of the May. The City Council is currently in the middle of going over the budget and discussing possible changes. By state law the budget needs to be passed by June 22nd.

We are only required to have one public hearing for the budget, but we have at least two hearings to involve Ogden citizens earlier in the process and provide more opportunities for input.

We accepted public input on the proposed budget at our meeting last night and will have another budget public hearing on June 9th.

We have just started a long series of Council discussions regarding the budget. Adopting the budget is one of the most important (and time consuming) things we do as a Council.

Bill C. said...

Hey, Gary Williams is consistant, finally,long after the fact, the term "cured" has appeared in an official "proposed" document. Any questions as to the authorship should be alliviated.

democrat said...

Your barking up the wrong tree!!!

Why is Godfrey getting away with using GOVERNMENT facilities to raise campaign donations for City Council Candidates?

Curmudgeon said...

Dem:

Well, maybe a better way to put it is, there are several trees that needed barking up, and still do. And the one you mention is among them. I'm still puzzled about why no press source that I'm aware of... not the SE, not the SL Trib, none of the TV news stations... has asked to see the contract between Ogden City and Envision Ogden involving the latter's use of The Junction [then city property] for a fund-raiser, much less a political fund raiser. Such a contract would be, without question, a public document. And if there is no contract, I'm hard put to explain why the press has not demanded an explanation of why Envision Ogden's political fund-raiser was permitted on city property with no contract [not even one covering liability?] and on whose authority it was done? And that the documents involved, whatever they are, be made public.

If the City's reply is "there was no contract" and "there are no documents," I'm hard put to see why that in itself wouldn't be a story. And an important one.

Dan Schroeder said...

democrat,

May I suggest that you are barking up the wrong tree by posting that question here on Weber County Forum? If you want an answer, you should be asking that question of the city council and the Standard-Examiner.

Dan Schroeder said...

Curm: Agreed. But please see my response to "democrat" above.

Bill C. said...

Curm, I can't believe I have never showed you the copy of the E-mail I recieved in response to my grama request from 9-6-07. It's from Cristy Shaw, the mayors old executive assistant to Mara Brown,City Attorney's office and Cindy Mansell, City Recorder.
The subject of course is my grama request for contractual arrangements and record of payment from Envision Ogden for the use of the Salomon Center for the Sneak Peek event. Her response is short, I'll quote it in full. "We have nodocumentation or record of payment for the use of the Salomon Center by Envision Ogden for the Sneak Peek Event".
Curm, I must have shown it to you,I gave Schwebke a copy at least a month prior to the election.

Dan Schroeder said...

Bill,

And I believe I emailed a copy of that document, and the others you gave me, to Rudi several weeks ago. Was hoping he'd put 'em into the Goldmine for all to see, but he seems to have forgotten.

democrat said...

Dan and Curm,

Very well spoken... Thank You!!

democrat said...

Curm and Dan,

I posted it here because I know that Andy Howell and Doug Gibson read this blog faithfully and I hope they run with these questions!

Dan Schroeder said...

democrat,

I have no idea how faithfully anyone at the Standard-Examiner reads this blog. But even if they do, they can still pretend not to have seen your comment unless you get it to them more directly. Sometimes you just need to hit people over the head with it before they pay attention.

Curmudgeon said...

Democrat:

Dan's right. The best way to bring something to the attention of editors --- SE, SLTrib, City Weekly, whatever --- is to write or email them directly. I wouldn't count on the editors of any particular paper reading deep into comment stacks at WCF day after day. And why gamble on getting them your complaint, or opinion, in such a roundabout way? Just tell 'em what you want to tell them, straight up.

In my experience, the editors of the SE are generally pretty good about replying to emails. At least emails that don't start with "Now look here you miserable misbegotten son of a retarded lying sea-snake...." Or words to that effect.

You may not like or agree with the answer you get, but generally they do reply. Been my experience, anyway.

Curmudgeon said...

Bill:

If that's the city's official position, and in writing --- that the Junction [city property at the time] was made available for a political fund-raiser without a contract and there is absolutely no documentation regarding the terms, who carried the liability, reimbursement for city expenses, etc. or who authorized Envision Ogden using the city-owned Junction --- and that group used some of the funds raised to campaign for the Mayor's re-election ---- if, as I said, that's the city's story, how in the hell is that not a story worth reporting? Or at the very least taking an editorial stand on?

And it leads inevitably to other questions. Who else has the Godfrey administration authorized to use public property free gratis for political purposes? How many other "kinfolk" deals have been made, or are still being made, that we don't know about because the Administration has been careful to generate no paper that could be GRAMAed? And so on.

Ozboy said...

I doubt very seriously that the Standard will ever have the balls to run with this story - or any others that amount to a public indictment of the dear Lord Mayor and company. The bean counters that run the place just can't take that kind of financial risk and they simply do not have that old fashioned belief in themselves as the fourth estate - one of the pillars of our American system.

The Standard is not alone, I also don't think any news outlet in Utah would do a story that breaks the news of criminal conduct of elected Republicans - until and unless there was an actual arrest or investigation first.

I believe every big news outlet in Utah knows about the Envision Ogden affair - the Solomon center deal and the phony election scam with the secret front FNURE - yet none of them are touching it. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Bill C. said...

Curm, it should also be noted that the folks at the gondola examiner were well aware of the details of the Sneak Peek use of the jackass center when they made their public endorsement of lying little matty for yet another decietful term.

RJ Svengali said...

"...Jackass Center...Lying Little Matty...Gondola Examiner..."

Yawn.
Bill C. sounds tired, tired, tired.

Curmudgeon said...

RJS:

Never the less, RJ, Bill's raising questions that, seems to me, deserve raising, que no?

dan s. said...

RJS & Curm,

I too was originally put off by Bill's style. But I've learned that behind his unpolished facade lurks a sharp intellect and a keen sense of smell that can sniff out a rat long before the rest of us would take notice. For example, Bill guessed that FNURE was a front for Envision Ogden back in December 2007.

RudiZink said...

C'mon people. Dan is correct. Bill C.'s latedt post adds a lot of interesting street style vernacular "style" to the discussion; and he's no slacker when it comes to ferreting out the facts. I believe we should happily enbrace that.

Remember folks. The blogosphere, which is just another unstopple manifestation of "popular folk culture in America" ain't no stinkin'"Counry Club"

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

You wrote: But I've learned that behind his unpolished facade lurks a sharp intellect and a keen sense of smell that can sniff out a rat long before the rest of us would take notice. You won't find a line from me anywhere doubting a word of that. RJS's point I think was that the meat Bill does dig out --- and he does --- may be given less attention than it deserves by the not-already committed if it comes wrapped in anti-Godfrey snark [e.g. "Jackass Center." There are people who patronize it, and enjoy what it offers, and who may therefore get no further than "Jackass Center" and "lying little Matty" and "Gondola Examiner" in a Bill C. post.] I'm sure it makes Bill feel good to indulge in that kind of snark. But does it make him more effective a polemicist? That I doubt.

Besides, Dan, what was clever when first written a couple of years ago [e.g. Gondola Examiner], now, on the 500th repetition, is getting a little shopworn, que no?

Snoozie Suzie said...

"We, we, we, we, we - love this town"

Yawn.
RJ Svengali sounds tired, tired, tired.

dan s. said...

Curm,

I wasn't disagreeing with you before, and I don't disagree with you now. I've given Bill many a lecture on how he could be more effective if he toned it down a bit. He's almost always ignored that advice. But we love him anyway here on WCF.

RJ Svengali said...

We read our news of Ogden City Government right here.
This is an excellent source.


Oh, and you that are laboring under the mighty thumb of the Evil Mayor?
Have you ever had a coworker, one who is perpetually disgruntled with the management, and delivers the tired rant every morning while his wallet is strapped to whatever treadmill his overlords will allow.
And, he never quits. Just blames the boss, year in and year out.

Anyway....

We are "tired" enough to cut and paste:
"...it comes wrapped in anti-Godfrey snark [e.g. "Jackass Center...are people who patronize it, and enjoy what it offers, and who may therefore get no further than "Jackass Center"...".
This was our point, mostly; not to disparage the opinions of the poor people Mayor Godfrey is currently slapping around with impunity; powerless fools.

And anyway, a lot of you nameless crazies we find agreement with, and do so with fair regularity.

Obviously, there exist more than one point of view supported by relevant facts as regards !Adventure City Ogden!.

One such vista suggests Mayor Godfrey has got the lot of you in a bitch-hold.

Another view?

Ozboy said...

Sven

I love it! Yes indeed, the little Bitch does indeed have a lot of us in a "bitch-hold"! As evil as he is, ya gotta give him credit for persistence in pursuing his vision. By hook or by crook he usually gets what he wants regardless of who opposes him and what names he is called. In my observations of him it is almost always by "crook" that he succeeds. Imagine where he could go in politics if he were honest and really cared about hoi polloi.

Curmudgeon said...

Oz:

He didn't get his flatland gondola fantasy loaded onto the backs of the ratepayers. His didn't get to sell his crony Mr. Peterson the golf course. He didn't get his two additional floors on the still not fully leased Junction office building. His much-touted River Project is a vacant lot for the most part.... the nicer-looking parts of it, that is. He didn't get the Historic District building guidelines changed for all of downtown. He didn't get his year round out-door ice climbing tower. He didn't get his downtown Indoor Wading Pool and Water Park.

If he had the faintest notion how to do public administration well, or how to build coalitions to support what he wants [following a skin-of-his-teeth re-election] instead of, by his actions, building coalitions of distrust instead, he'd be dangerous.

I shudder to think of the damage an administratively competent Godfrey would have done to Ogden by now. Happily, his ham-fisted incompetence has limited the damage.

So far.

Ozboy said...

Mr. Curmudgeon

Those are all important and welcome victories for the people and defeats for the mayor for sure. However compared to his "wins" they are financially small potatoes except the gondola and that ain't a finished story I fear.

If you think he has cut a big swath so far, just wait till he gets to Washington, or worse yet the Governor's mansion!

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