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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Noe Excuses - California Pol Won't Return Contribution From Stolen Public Funds

As James Drew and Steve Eder of the Toledo Blade report, recently released financial records show that scandal-ridden Ohio coin dealer and major political contributor Tom Noe used the same entity - Tom Noe, Inc. - to contribute $10,000 to Governor Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team as he did to steal millions (allegedly) from the people of Ohio. As the story says, back in June, we suggested the strong likelihood that the $10,000 was stolen from the people of Ohio. After chief Schwarzenegger fundraiser Marty Wilson initially refused to return the tainted cash, the Guv agreed to return the $10,000.

The same cannot be said for California Board of Equalization (CBE) Member and candidate for California Treasurer Claude Parrish, who continues to refuse to return the $5,000 he received from Tom Noe in 2003 despite overwhelming evidence that the contribution he received came from public funds stolen from the people of Ohio. Parrish says he will return the cash only if Noe is convicted.

As a member of the CBE, Parrish is in a position to affect which businesses pay sales tax for various activities. Parrish has received at least $19,279 since 2003 from contributors clearly aligned with the coin dealing industry, which received a since-repealed tax exemption in Ohio on exchanges dealing with investment grade coins. In 2004, Parrish weighed in against AB1178, a bill vigorously opposed by the California Coin and Bullion Merchants Association.

Parrish's coziness with the coin industry aside, it is somewhat perplexing how a person who is running for state treasurer can be so cavalier towards the outright theft of public funds, especially when a chunk of those funds ended up in that person's campaign account. But, this is the standard of ethics that many politicians use when it comes to raising cash: if it's green and gets me elected, who cares where it comes from.

Governor Schwarzenegger recently returned another contribution last week when the Associated Press reported that the Governor had taken $50,000 from a casino company, an industry he had promised not to accept cash from. The Governor's team didn't vet the contribution to see whether it met the Governor's standard - the AP did.

Current California Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides has accepted more than $20,000 from the campaign committee of former Senator Robert Torricelli, who was forced to withdraw from the 2002 Senate race only weeks before the election due to federal and Senate investigations into his campaign committee's fundraising.

And now there's Parrish.

One thing is clear: we have a system that places too much emphasis on a candidate's campaign coffers and not enough on their ideas. Lower contribution limits, public financing, spending limits, and free broadcast airtime for qualified candidates would all help to refocus elections in this country on issues rather than money. While it is unclear whether the ethics of any of these candidates would benefit from these measures, it is clear that the rest of us - and our say in government - would.

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