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:
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":