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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Portland On The Brink of Better Elections

this is an audio post - click to play

Yesterday, the Portland City Council met to discuss and vote on the proposed Voter Owned Elections Ordinance, a system of providing public financing of political campaigns for qualifying candidates. Instead of voting, the City Council approved an amendment which calls for a 2010 referral in order to provide Portland voters with plenty of opportunity for input. The vote on the ordinance itself was put off until next week. A majority of the City Council had pledged their support of public financing of elections at an earlier council meeting.

Under the ordinance, to qualify for public funds, a candidate must collect a certain number of $5 donations (1,500 for mayoral candidates, 1,000 for candidates for auditor and other city commissioners), forgo private fundraising, agree to a spending limit, and abide by various reporting procedures.

There were some recent attempts to add other last minute amendments which would weaken the bill. One amendment would have prohibited the current Council members from participating in the system. The second would have attached a sunset provision for 2010. Neither of these amendments were successfully attached.

If this effort is successful, Portland will be the first city in the country to have full public financing of elections, a remarkable feat in itself, but all the more so in one of the few states with no current limits whatsoever on the flow of big money into politics.

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Hillary's Hollywood Fundraisers

As David Rosenzweig and Greg Krikorian report in the Los Angeles Times, the finance director for Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign goes on trial today in Los Angeles for three counts of lying to the Federal Elections Commission. The defendant, David Rosen, is accused of underreporting costs for a 2000 Hollywood fundraiser for Clinton, which allowed the Senator from New York to add an extra $800,000 to her campaign account.

The overall tale is as sordid as any Shakespeare play, involving two longtime conmen, a coterie of Hollywood stars who sell their appearance at political events for cash, some seriously undiligent diligence on the part of a campaign finance director more interested in feathering the campaign nest of his candidate than with staying within the law, and . . . a Kennedy.

Rosen, the finance director, hired two men, Peter Paul and Aaron Tonken, to help him organize a Brentwood fundraiser for Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign replete with megastar Cher, in addition to Muhammad Ali, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, and Diana Ross. On somewhat unrelated charges, Paul has pled guilty to swindling investors in Stan Lee Media of $25 million; Tonken is currently serving five years in prison for defrauding charities out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Allegedly, Tonken lured the Hollywood heavyweights to the political fundraiser with promises of gifts and perks, which he concealed by cooking the books. He also made a little for himself on the side. Paul allegedly underreported the huge costs of the event, which he alleges he paid for personally in hopes that Bill Clinton would participate in the internet venture for which Paul was eventually convicted of fraud.

And then there's the Kennedy, Raymond Reggie, who is married to Ted Kennedy's sister and was just convicted in a bank swindling scheme last month. Reggie may be the federal informant who taped a conversation with Rosen in which Rosen allegedly reveals that he was aware of the underreported costs (which provided the illicit $800,000 windfall to Hillary's 2002 campaign.)

All of which is to say that it appears very likely that Hillary Clinton's 2002 benefited from some $800,000 in donations which she should not have received. $800,000 is a lot of illegal money, especially to come from one event. If Rosen didn't know, he should have. As his boss, Hillary bears some responsibility for letting the inmates run the asylum.

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