On beyond Vladimir
So they finally indicted Vladimir Golovan for fraud in connection with the Emilie Boyles campaign's "voter-owed elections" signature scam from last spring's Portland City Council race. I must admit, I never thought it would happen. Now all the Stennies can strut and cluck around about how "the system is working, there are rules and if you break them you have to face the consequences," yada yada yada.
Certainly having this guy indicted is better than having everybody walk away scot-free. I hope they can get a plea out of him, although some of the charges look a little, shall we say, offbeat. Identity theft? For forging another person's signature, once, on an election petition? "Unsworn falsification"? Heck, I do that every time I play poker.
Anyway, there remain some deeper questions that need to be answered. Here's my list:
1. Why no charges against Boyles and Tate? Golovan wasn't the main intended beneficiary of his alleged misdeeds. He picked up 15 grand or so from each of Boyles and Lucinda Tate, for whom he also worked, but Boyles and Tate each stood to receive around 10 times that amount, to spend as they pleased on their campaigns. Once she got her dole, Boyles immediately put her daughter on the payroll and paid off some serious bills that had the strong odor of personal living expenses about them. Who knows what Tate would have done with the money?
So why was neither of them charged? Most likely because they said they didn't know that the signatures they were turning in were fake, and the state prosecutors couldn't come up with any evidence to contradict their word on the matter.
But given the transparency of the fraud -- it was facially obvious that at least several of the signatures Golovan submitted were not genuine -- if Boyles and Tate didn't know of the fraud, they should have known. Which brings me to the next question:
2. What level of due diligence should be required on the part of the candidates seeking taxpayer campaign financing? This case proves that under the "system," a candidate can turn in phony signatures and not be culpable, so long as he or she adopts a "don't ask don't tell" policy with his or her signature gatherers. Even a quick look at some of the Golovan signature pages would have revealed problems -- should the candidates not be required to do at least that much? Shouldn't they be required to certify under oath that they have examined the sheets, and to the best of their observation and knowledge, all the signatures are genuine?
3. Should paid signature- and contribution-gathering be allowed at all? Why not outlaw paid solicitation of signatures and contributions outright? The idea of the required 1,000 $5 contributions from residents is to insure that the candidates have grassroots support. In that spirit, shouldn't they have to talk people out of their $5 themselves, or with volunteer help, rather than hiring hucksters to accost strangers at supermarkets and church halls? Given the cesspool that signature-gathering has generally become in connection with initiative petitions in Oregon, wouldn't it make sense to preclude the same problems in the city "system"?
4. Is anybody at City Hall going to check signatures and addresses in the future before forking over the tax dollars? It's a major embarrassment that the only people who looked at the signatures with a critical eye toward their genuineness were newspaper reporters. Shouldn't the city be doing the same? Obviously, false signatures should be flagged before public money goes out, not after.
Of course, given the wide-open criteria for the qualifying $5 contributions, it would be impossible for the city to check every one of the signatures and addresses. Under the current "rules," all that's required is that the contributor be a resident of the city -- not a registered voter, not a citizen, just a resident. Even if the city elections officer had access to county voter registration records -- and my understanding is that he or she doesn't have even that -- that wouldn't be enough to check mere residency. What could you use? Property tax records? Wouldn't include renters. The phone book? Wouldn't include people without listed land lines.
5. How will the contributions be verified? Another huge hole in the "system" is allowing qualifying contributions to be made in cash, with no paper trail required. Obviously, someone like Golovan could front $5,000 in cash himself, without any of the signatories pungling up their $5. When the candidate gets his or her $145,000 in "clean money" from the city, it would be easy enough to reimburse the financing source for his or her trouble. If the signature-gatherer puts up 5 grand and gets paid a fee of 15 grand, it all comes out in the wash, and then some.
6. If signatures, addresses, and contributions can't be verified, isn't the system just an open invitation to fraud? If the "system" can't be tightened up so that signatures, addresses, and contributions can be, and are in fact, checked, then the stealing will just get worse. The "progressive" elements behind "clean money" clearly want to maintain the appearance of ultimate openness, but it's at the cost of major security vulnerability. It's a jungle out there, kids -- you have to have a firewall.
7. Should the city pay or reimburse for expenses only after the fact, rather than paying the candidates a lump sum and hoping for the best? The only thing that Boyles herself has been busted for is misspending the "clean money" she received. She was given an immediately negotiable check for $145,000, and allowed to spend it without any monitoring by the city other than a post-expenditure report that was filed long after half the money was gone. Perhaps the city should dribble the money out more slowly, requiring proof that the funds are being spent legitimately before paying funds out of the municipal treasury.
8. When (if ever) are the taxpayers of the city, who are paying for this program, ever going to get a chance to vote on it? "Voter-owed elections" are a waste of money at best, and an incumbent protection racket at worst. Even if the "rules" worked well (which they obviously haven't), the voters should have been consulted before this radical change in the dynamics of city elections was implemented. They weren't consulted, and they won't be, unless someone forces the issue by an initiative petition. The boys at City Hall are doubtlessly hoping to keep tweaking the system until it finally rises above its current status as a fiasco, and then put it up for a vote. But if you're waiting for this clunker to run smoothly, and then have a referendum, don't count on it for decades.
Sure, I'd like to see big money be taken out of city politics, and I'd like to see grassroots candidates thrive. But this contraption has done little to advance either cause. The condo scams continue unabated, and the two incumbents in the last election got by without so much as a runoff. Between those truths and the fact that it's a license to steal, "voter-owed elections" is just another goofball feature of what has become a truly odd little city government.