The Tornoe Spin: Open government in Delaware

    Open Government legislation caught in shadows of Marriage Equality, gun control

    With Delaware lawmakers considering big legislation like Marriage Equality, gun control and the death penalty, an equally-import group of bills is getting almost no attention from the majority, and very little play by media outlets.

     

    Back in March, Republicans introduced five bills that attempt to make Legislative Hall and state government more open and transparent. The bills not only include calls for tighter requirements on reporting gifts and tax disclosures, they ban legislators from seeking state employment after being elected (the so-called “double-dippers”) and bar former legislators from acting as lobbyists for two years after they leave office. 

    “It reflects poorly on all of us and it is simply wrong.  If a legislator is bound and determined to seek a state paid position, then he or she can leave elected office and pursue the other opportunity,” Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, told the Cape Gazette. “This question has been debated for years and a vote has never occurred on the floor of either chamber.  Any excuse to keep this from a full vote is simply an excuse.” 

     

    Great stuff, right? Especially considering Delaware lags behind most states when it comes to reporting lobbyists’ activities and tracing their influence. Unfortunately, like other versions of these bills that have been introduced in previous years, the legislation sits on a desk somewhere, collecting dust.

     

    As a political cartoonist, I think the more open our government, the better informed our citizens can be to the shenanigans going on within the walls of power among people who were supposedly elected to represent us, and not the special interest donors increasing and stockpiling money into their campaign coffers.

     

    Take AstraZeneca for example. Common Cause of Delaware screwed up in their report and incorrectly inflated the amount of money the company contributed to political campaigns, candidates and committees. 

     

    However, it doesn’t change the fact that AstraZeneca made big contributions to both Democrats and Republicans in Delaware, a completely cynical attempt to purchase political influence in bulk, Costco style. According to the News Journal, state reports still show AstraZeneca donated large amounts of money to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RLSC) from 2007 to 2010, which in tern gave the state GOP $100,000 in 2008.  They’re not the only one. From 2007-2012, the Delaware Racing Association gave $31,000 to the Republican Central Committee and $23,000 to the Democratic Central Committee. W.L. Gore spread the wealth around the same way from 2009-2012, giving $19,500 to the Democratic Central Committee and $13,500 to the Republican Central Committee. In one case, W.L. Gore even cut two checks for $7,500 that want to each party on the same day. Common Cause’s report also showcased a direct link between votes cast by legislators in 2012 on a Senate bill dealing with rent increases to manufactured housing, and contributions made by the First State Manufactured Housing Association. According to their report, representatives voting “no” on the bill received an average $1,240 each, eight times higher than donations given to those who voted in favor of the bill. All told, First State Manufactured Housing Association spent $133,964 on political donations, an important fact considering on Tuesday, lawmakers introduced new legislation that attempts to address the issue of rent justification for manufactured home communities. Wouldn’t it be nice to know which politicians the group was giving money to this time around, and compare that in real time to how their votes line up?

    As citizens, we need to pressure our legislaters to pass these open government bills and push for better public access to information. After all, despite the checkbook of these large companies and special interest groups, they’re working for us.

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    Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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