Friday, April 24, 2009

Mike Murphy Is Why We Need a New Law

Back in 1997, campaign finance reformers tired of the horrible impression (if not reality) created by both party caucuses and their candidates raising money from special interests during the General Assembly session.

In response, the General Assembly passed Indiana Code § 3-9-12-2, which prohibits legislators who are seeking "legislative office" from soliciting or accepting any campaign donations during the session.

The very legitimate premise was that it's unsavory to host a fundraiser the same evening budget conferees are going to decide where billions may or may not go. This was probably two-way protection. While the advocates could see special interests buying influence, those special interests probably felt shaken down by legislators as well. After all, who wouldn't feel the need pony up when decisions were still to be made?

Sure, senators and reps could still raise money the day before the session started, but at least we'd know there wasn't special interest money being doled out as bills mutated during the legislative process.

The ostensible goal of the bill was simple - let bills rise and fall on their merits, not on some perceived (or actual) quid pro quo. This was our way of saying as a citizenry that we do not want someone thinking about the financial advantages he or she might receive for casting a vote in a particular direction, at least not in the moment that vote is cast.

But this bill has a loophole in the definition of "legislative office," which refers ONLY to state senate and representative in the General Assembly under Indiana Code §3-5-2-28.

And this gets me to State Representative Mike Murphy. In the midst of the current General Assembly session, Murphy is soliciting contributions to run against Dan Burton for Congress. Though the FEC report says the committee is for "Iowa 5th," it's clear this is our man from Indy raising dollars.

Murphy might say that this list of donors is comprised of "just friends" on whose Board he serves. That would be true with respect to the donations from the execs at Monarch Beverage. But other notable donors include businessmen Bob Parker, Beurt Servaas, and Democratic gubernatorial contender Jim Schellinger. Are these"friend" donations or corporate interest donations? What about the donation from Rhonda Cook, the executive director for the Indiana Association of Cities? Without getting into the minds of every donor, we do not know what, if any, viewpoint the donations are attempting to influence or support. Future votes in Congress or current ones in the Indiana General Assembly?

If we do not want to make a mockery of the intent of this "no session fundraising" law, it must encompass fundraising for all political offices sought by sitting legislators, not just "legislative" ones.

Of course, such a law will never pass because half the General Assembly is thinking right now about running for Congress, and they would never want the competitive disadvantage of running against an incumbent in a two-year cycle is they had to go five months without raising money.

I get that, but all that does is firmly convince me that we need a new law that should let you run for Congress or serve in the statehouse...but not both.

You owe us better.


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