Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Men Who Kicked The Hornets Nest

Credit The Who for background audio, "Who Are You," in the video, above, and Swedish author Stieg Larrson for the concept — his Dragon Tatoo trilogy is almost certainly the finest political/crime/suspense literature of this century and the Swedish movie versions of his work are simply extraordinary and follow the books true to form (unlike the recently released US Girl With The Dragon Tatoo which takes more license than the Swedish counterpart). The books, the movies, and the aftermath of the Citizens United vs. F.E.C. United States Supreme Court decision are not for the timid or feint of heart. They are all rock-hard sobering stuff.

If Pete White and Ed Shadid have any dragon tattoos on them, they are probably figurative and not literal, but there can be no doubt that the pair has aggressively pursued their common cause of kicking the Citizens United hornets nest as much as can be done at the municipal level of government. They began kicking it up a notch at the January 17, 2012, city council meeting, and "bully pulpited" municipal campaign disclosure again on January 24 and February 7, our last three council meetings, each of which is fully reported on below.

Background For The Current Discussion. On March 1, 2011, outgoing Ward 2 council member Sam Bowman became the 1st councilman to become vocal about the huge amounts of money being spent anonymously in the spring 2011 City Council elections. He said,
And then, in these last few weeks, big money has gotten involved to the extent, my opinion, it has just made a mockery of our city elections. * * * The people, I think, need to know who's behind the money...
His Ward 2 successor, Ed Shadid, railed about the Super PAC expenditures of in excess of $500,000 during the Oklahoma City Council elections, Oklahoma City having been one of, if not the, first battlegrounds which came face to face the practical consequences and reality of the Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court in 2010. It is recalled that the anonymous Super PAC Committee For Oklahoma City Momentum called labeled him "Too Extreme For Oklahoma City," among one if its kinder observations about Ed Shadid the candidate.

After his election, it is a fair and safe thing to say that several existing council members were discourteous of, if not downright disrespectful to, councilman Shadid during the first months following his taking office. See this post here, for example.

But at least some measure of thawing and cooler heads became evident in the November 15, 2011, council meeting when Shadid's resolution to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation of city employees was adopted by a 7-2 vote with only Skip Kelly and Larry McAtee voting no.

... more coming shortly ...

Recent Comments In City Council. During each of the last three meetings of City Council the topic of doing something about the Citizens United decision was brought to the floor in the "Comments By Members of Council" section of the council's agenda. That discussion is shown in its entirety and is briefly commented upon, as follows.

January 17, 2012, City Council Excerpts
January 17 - Part A
January 17 - Part B
Part A Notes. Ed Shadid noted that during the previous week by a 3-2 vote the State Ethics Commission declined decided not to make recommendations to the Legislature for revisions to the Political Subdivision Ethics Act despite the general recognition that the ethics commission doesn't have the manpower, will, or even the jurisdiction to oversee municipal elections. Shadid described Pete White's comments to the commission as "chilling and powerful" and he noted that in the spring 2010 elections that 12 entities did even not file campaign finance reports with the City Clerk. He said, "Democracy is slipping away." "I would hope that we as group can maybe vet this and try and work toward other solutions," he said, opining that the city needs to "do something." He characterized the political consultants who attended the commission meeting as "very cynical" and "licking their chops" concerning the 2013 city council elections for Wards 1, 3, 4, and 7 in a circumstance in which no ethics commission overlooks city elections and there is no enforcement. Pete White said that the system before Citizens United worked well and that the Citizens United decision does allow for disclosure and sanctions if state and/or local organizations implement the same. "I don't think that we can afford to not have a system that requires people to report money that's contributed to campaigns," he said and added, "We should know who they are." He further opined that cities have the ability to act independently of the Legislature and cited the City of Norman's establishment of a city election commission as evidence.Part B Notes. David Greenwell said that his impression was that the commission merely wanted to wait until the Legislature acted. White responded that the commission missed the opportunity to be a "bully pulpit" and, as to the commission revisiting the matter in February, he said, "Well, I'm certainly not holding my breath." White noted that two election cycles will likely occur before any state legislation might be implemented, the 2013 council elections and the 2014 mayoral election. "We're going to have to do something ourselves," he said. "I want to know who you are. If you're going to say bad things about me, I want to know who you are cause I may want to say bad things about you," he said. He noted that political consultants Pat Hall and Pat McFerran told the commission that disclosure rules may "dampen" election activity. To that, White said, "Well it sure as hell might dampen some of the activity, some of it that might be dampened if they had to tell who their names were," and he added, "What it really dampen is people getting in. Who's going to want to get in," adding, "Nobody's going to want to run against that." He asked the mayor's office to determine "what's out there for us." Mayor Cornett said he thought the matter might be for the city's Legislative Committee to consider. Meg Salyer passingly said that she pretty much agrees with White "across the board," but that she wanted it to be clear that what happened last spring was the result of the US Supreme Court and not the fault of any on the city council. Patrick Ryan's brief comments at the end are somewhat garbled but he sounded generally friendly to what White had said.
January 24, 2012, City Council Excerpts
At this meeting, only Pete White spoke on the topic. It is evident, though, that he and councilman Larry McAtee had previously discussed the matter, McAtee wanting it to be made clear that White's comments did not represent city council position, nor perhaps his own. White obliged and made that clear, but, more, he used the opportunity to forcefully talk about the topic.
February 7, 2012, City Council Excerpts
February 7 - Part A
February 7 - Part B
Part A Notes: Pete White began by saying that it appeared likely that the state is going to make a major step to require disclosure and do something with regard to something with regard to what he said was "a serious ethics problem" and with regard to municipal elections. "I believe they will be willing to give the cities the authority to manage that themselves," he said. "That's kind of good news and bad news. The good news is that we may be able to find a way to manage it ourselves. The bad news is there are many many pitfalls in my opinion in forming our own ethics commission," he said and explained. Patrick Ryan said, "Pete, do we need an ethics commission to require reporting?" and White answered, "Perhaps we don't." He wanted the mayor to appoint a small study group. Municipal Counselor Kenneth Jordan opined that the state has preempted the field and that what Norman did in forming its Election Commission wasn't legal. However, no one seemed to know exactly what Norman has done. Jordan said that he sent council a legal opinion a couple of weeks ago — to my knowledge, that memo has not been made public. Ryan said we need to wait for the state to act. White agreed but said, "We need to be ready to do something as soon as we possibly can." White commented upon the current national Republican primary noting, "They're not running positive ads with this money. And the reason they're not is because they don't have to put their name on it. If you have to be identified as they guy that's throwing the garbage then you're much less likely to do it." Ryan again said that we should to wait for the Legislature. Mayor Mick Cornett said, "Why don't we ask staff to look into what legislation might be introduced, or about to be introduced, that we can put our 2¢ into." White stressed the need to work with our local legislators. Gary Marrs said he wanted a report from (presumably legal) staff as to what we can and cannot do. "We all know what the bottom line is — and that is you want people to put their name down as donor on the PAC that they're doing it," he said. But, he didn't want to spend time trying to do something which would result in time being spent uselessly, he saying, "I don't want to get down to the very end and all of the sudden we're all throwing up our hands saying, 'Why did we go through this whole mess if they're not going to have to report anyway?'"Part B Notes: White agreed. He also noted the District Attorney's suggestion of making remedies civil instead of criminal since proving a civil case carries an easier burden of proof. David Greenwell said that adoption of the federal election rules for state and city elections would satisfy much of the problem. But, he added, "One thing you won't be able to do is that 501C4 organizations do not have to disclose who contributes to them and as long as they don't make independent expenditures their primary activity, keep it below 50% of expenditures, then they fall within the Internal Revenue Service guidelines." White then said that the political consultants at the State Ethics Commission were "self-serving for the most part — about, well, that the reporting requirement would be burdensome — that if you put reporting requirements on people that will cause fewer people to run for office. To me that is so disingenuous it's hard to hold in my head." He said, "All these little barriers are being thrown in the way and not by this group but by others that are trying to find a way to delay disclosure, to avoid disclosure, and Citizens United does not say that you can't have disclosure, it says you can't put caps on money," he apparently disagreeing with Greenwell's above opinion. White continued, "I want their names. I want to know who they are. And, to the extent we can do that, that's what I think we ought to be trying to do because I think you'll stop some of this goofiness if your name has to be on it." Shadid said he thought it was too late to get laws on the books before the next election but said, "I'd like to see all of the candidates who are running for city council to just come right out and say, 'We're not OK with this.'" "If the candidates all in unison lock arms and say, 'This is not OK, it's not tolerable. If you do it we're going to call you out, I think that's possibly the deterrent that we need." Ryan said such an approach was overly simplistic, "it might sound good but it wouldn't work." He did acknowledge the "opportunity for mischief" as might occur were an undisclosed PAC secretly wanting to build a city casino. White countered, saying, "It would work if you did it." Shadid added that the approaches "are not mutually exclusive, you can do both." Larry McAtee closed the discussion by implying that it might be better to have discussion in the council's Legislation Committee instead of during council meetings. He did not explain why.

My intention is to update THIS post with additional city council clips and/or later information when they become available.

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