Bill Mason’s campaign finance reform panel spent its April 1 meeting mulling over ways to shed light on who makes contributions to candidates, but the big question remains: How transparent do local politicians — including Mason — want to get?
Mason, who selected the panel and set its agenda, says he want to tackle what he views as simple goals, such as requiring electronic submission of campaign finance reports. Mason also wants to hasten the group’s work so that its discussions can fuel debate among candidates for county offices. He’d like the group to come up with a list of preliminary list recommendations by the candidates’ filing deadline of June 24.
The panel’s discussions have been robust and civil, but Mason, by constantly insisting on simplicity and expediency, seems uneasy with his group’s more substantial recommendations.
For instance, panelist Greg Coleridge of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee suggested that campaign contributors disclose their primary employer. New panelist Subodh Chandra, Cleveland’s former law director, wondered if business contributors should state if they intend to seek county contracts.
Mason’s response: That type of disclosure could be difficult to implement and give crafty contributors yet another campaign finance rule to circumvent.
“Let’s make it easy for the candidate to do and everyone to comply,” said Mason. If the panel’s recommendations are “too hard, too complicated,” it’s going to be difficult to convince the incoming county government to adopt them, the prosecutor argues.
But Chandra countered that this disclosure criteria permits a starting point for public and media scrutiny. “Isn’t it better for the public to know? [The contributor] may react in a way we don’t want them to react, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to do it."
The panel holds its next meeting on Wednesday, April 14 at the downtown offices of Acme Express, 3821 Prospect Ave., Cleveland. A public forum on campaign finance reform has been tentatively set for Tuesday, April 27, time to be announced. Meeting agendas and minutes for the panel can be found at its web site. — Damian Guevara