Last Branam-Busse payment disappears from ORESTAR
I see that the city's timing of last Friday afternoon's announcement about City Council candidate John Branam's "clean money" shenanigans had the desired effect. The mainstream media gave it anemic coverage on Friday night and Saturday morning, nobody paid any attention to it, and today life goes on. The fact that Branam had already violated the city's order, reported here last night, seems to have had no traction at all. Perhaps the local government here wouldn't try to manipulate the local media so much if it weren't so easy.
Anyway, sometime today, the last payment of $1,000 by Branam to Busse, which appeared on the state's ORESTAR website all weekend, has disappeared. It had transaction ID number 287933, and it was posted at 6:12 p.m. on Friday.
The current state of affairs in the city's "voter-owed elections" public campaign finance fiasco raises a number of questions, one of whom I've already raised: Can someone give Branam money to pay any penalties that he personally will owe?
Here's another: What if Branam's campaign manager, Phil Busse, were to stop working right now? The city has ruled that he should be paid no more than $20,000 for working on the campaign for three months, up to the date of the election. He's already been paid that full amount, and maybe then some. And so if he quits, dies, becomes disabled, or gets fired today, Branam will have to pay the city back some of the salary, plus penalties -- right?
Allowing "clean money" folks to prepay big salaries, or big anything, is a bad practice. In Branam's case, of course, the suspicion was that he was not prepaying Busse for future services, but back-paying him for services performed before Branam was certified. That would have been against the rules, and no such violation was found -- although it was reported in the Merc (Busse's old employer) last Nov. 22 that "Branam has been campaigning for weeks—with former Mercury managing editor and mayoral candidate Phil Busse as his manager."
Anyway, that issue is now dead, but the question of what would happen if Busse stops working remains intriguing.
The other big issue to arise from this latest flap is an obvious basic flaw in the system: that once candidates get $150,000 or $200,000 of taxpayer money to run their campaigns, the city will inevitably wind up micromanaging their campaign expenditures. Worst of all, that policing will be done with "fair market value" as the standard.
Now, I know something about "fair market value." I make a good living explaining to people what it means. And I can tell you that it almost always means trouble. Opinions about "fair market value" routinely vary, and often wildly. When a law or a regulation uses that term, it virtually guarantees uncertainty, confusion, hard feelings, and controversy. What is the "fair market value" of the services performed by a campaign manager or staffer? One thing's for sure -- you'll never know for sure.