Quick Thought on Local Campaign Contributions

Paul Esslinger is making hay on a few blogs about comments he made on a local program. Click here for the info/video.

The gist of it is he "argued that Council members should recuse themselves from matters that affect campaign contributors."

This is an honorable stand. But it is also an impractical one in the real world. The State Ethics Board declares:

In general, the ethics code contains two kinds of restrictions. The first restricts an official from personally profiting from holding public office, apart from the receipt of salary and expenses to which the official is entitled. The second restricts an official from participating in decisions in which the official has a personal financial interest.

Accepting items
A. A local public official may not accept items or services of substantial value for private benefit, or for the benefit of the official's immediate family or associated organizations, if offered because of public position.
B. A local public official may not accept (and no one may offer or give) anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence the official's vote, official actions or judgment.
C. A local public official may not accept (and no one may offer or give) anything of value that could reasonably be considered a reward for any official action or

Controlling conflicting interests
A. A local public official may not take official action substantially affecting a matter in which the official, the official's immediate family, or associated organization has a substantial financial interest.
B. A local public official may not use office or position to produce a substantial benefit for official, family, or associated organization.

If you look at Mr. Esslinger's own votes and actions on the council, you can see the impracticality of this. 2 examples where he violates his own standard are:

Last year, Mr. Esslinger accepted money from the owner of Mueller on Hwy 21 & 41 to run for mayor. Yet he still voted and participated in the debate regarding how we were going to route the frontage roads. And for the road-building budgets. Both of these had a direct effect on the interests of a campaign contributor.

Mr. Esslinger introduced the resolution to put the Iraq War question on the ballot for referendum. He did this even though he accepted the support of "Citizens for Responsible Government" a local PAC/Special Interest Group. Tony Palmeri, one of the leaders of the referendum and it's most publicly outspoken proponent, gave money to this PAC.

Under the standard that Mr. Esslinger is proposing in the interview, both of these actions on his part were unethical.

Do I think that Mr. Esslinger was acting unethically when he did this? No, I do not. He was doing the business and duties of a council member. He did not personally profit from either action. Was he repaying support for his campaign? Who knows - that is for the voters to decide. Unless the actions violate the standards above, they are not illegal.

All other calls are up to the voters to decide. Is this elected official working in my best interests or not?

That is really all this flap he is trying to create is. It is just about getting elected.

The only way to get the special interests out of campaigns all together is public funding (which I support). Otherwise you need contributions to get elected. In the perfect case, people who agree with your stands on issues will contribute and you can be yourself. If anything else happens, the voters and the Ethics Board will get involved.

UPDATE - Cheryl Hentz points out a third situation (in comments):

To those who seem to think that councilors should recuse themselves from voting on issues pertaining to those from who they have received campaign contributions, maybe Paul Esslinger should also recuse himself from voting on the Ben Ganther liquor license, as well as any and all matters pertaining to the issuance or revocation of liquor licenses, or any other tavern-related matters that come before the council. After all, he was (along with three others of us) endorsed by and received a financial contribution through a PAC donation last year from the Tavern League.


Anonymous said...

While I disagree with you on many issues, you are right on with this one. Esslinger is out of line with his comments.

Anonymous said...

Paul Esslinger tried taking the easy way out on this one. He tried to get Cheryl Hentz to do something that if it was that important he could just as easily have done himself. His motives are suspect and his methods questionable. Is this someone we want in office for another term?

Anonymous said...

I believe that enlight of the active displayed by our city council during their last council meeting and the "closed" meeting. Mr. Esslinger has again hit the naiil on the head. Jef, when are you ever going to be willing to give this man credit where credit is due? Paul Esslinger was the only councilor that did not attend this "closed meeting".
You should be questioning why would Ben Ganther be giving M. Scherueman 100.00 when he doesn't live in the city and can't vote for her? Could it be to buy influence on not only lience issues but projects like the 5 rivers (that, by the way have Ben Ganther listed as one of the contractors for.) Your comtempt for Mr.Esslinger is well documented. If you, yourself want respect for opinions, then you need to be less self-rightous and more fair in your assesment of people and circumstances.