EDITORIAL: Election problems need to be fixed

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Indianapolis election laws need a couple of major revisions, and both come down to ensuring integrity in local politics. Marion County needs to adopt electronic campaign reporting that allows the public to easily search a database for information, and the county also needs to limit campaign contributions.

Usable transparency

Marion County candidates running for public office currently fill out paper forms, often by hand, that report their campaign contributions in random order. Not alphabetically, not chronologically, not by donation size. PDFs of those forms are available online, but compiling information for analysis, or even finding the name of a specific donor, is time-consuming and laborious.

This practice flies in the face of political transparency, and there’s no reason for it to be the case here. The state of Indiana has an online database that allows users to search by such factors as candidate name, donor name or contribution amount. Marion County could piggyback on that system, just as the state incorporates counties’ court databases into its own website. The county already compiles the information; it’s time to give the public the tools that make it practical for voters to assess candidates’ donation sources and amounts.

Donation limits

And speaking of donation amounts, Marion County also needs to join the U.S. cities as diverse as Sacramento, California; Kansas City, Missouri; New York; Philadelphia; and Tallahassee, Florida, in enacting limits on campaign contributions. The recent disclosure that mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett has received three $100,000 donations from individual taxpayers raised eyebrows, but nothing in local law discourages such hefty contributions. That should change.

The concern that big money can translate into big influence is the underpinning of all campaign-contribution limits. No elected official can claim immunity to the pressure from donors who might want to get what they paid for. Contribution limits help protect lawmakers from that pressure, and protect the interests of voters whose pockets aren’t deep.

Federal campaign contribution laws are often criticized for their loopholes, but having none at all would create a Wild West of political influence. Thirty-eight states limit contributions from both individuals and groups. Six, including Indiana, limit groups’ contributions but not individuals’. And a growing number of cities also see the wisdom of limiting this political power. Indianapolis needs to join the bandwagon of common-sense integrity.•

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