The issue of campaign finance reform is one that arises in dozens of elections each year on both the state, local and national level, with citizens usually ending up disappointed at the end by the lack of genuine reform and the numerous loopholes left open when new legislation is passed.
There are many reasons for this, the most prominent being that the people making the rules are elected officials and therefore have an obvious interest in those rules being as lenient as possible. The result is that the laws regulating campaign financing look about how the Freedom of Information Act would look if it were left up to non-journalists.
For this reason, we welcome CUinFP’s push to make campaign contributions a talking point in the upcoming election. Still, while we’re thrilled to know that candidates will have to confront this issue and explain their positions, we do not see a refusal to sign CUinFP’s pledge as an automatic sign of wrongful intentions. Candidates may have perfectly legitimate reasons for opting out, which they will be free to explain to voters.
The harsh restriction on donations from out of town seems especially limiting, as members of Forest Park’s neighboring communities have a legitimate interest in wanting this town to succeed for the sake of the region and have every right to support the candidates they think will bring about this success.
While the specific terms of the pledge may be debatable, the importance of the issue is not. We hope that others will join CUinFP in making this a visible issue so that potential candidates who may have grudges against the group and its members cannot dismiss the subject by merely killing the messenger.
Still, the bottom line is that there will always be loopholes and ways around the rules. Even candidates who do sign CUinFP’s pledge could find fundraising means that violate the spirit of everything CUinFP had hoped to accomplish. The fact that it is merely a pledge which nobody has any power to enforce means that candidates could freely break the terms of the agreement without the fear of legal action.
When election time comes around, we won’t be looking for candidates whose corruption and unethical activity have been held in check by laws or pledges. We’ll be looking for candidates whose moral compass guides them to do the right thing and serve the interests of their constituents regardless of whether the rules give them a choice.
No matter how and by whom the campaigning process is regulated, Forest Parkers will have to choose candidates who they feel are honest and straightforward and have the village’s best interests in mind. When it comes down to it, it really is a matter of trust.