Sunlight Weekly Roundup: Lack of campaign finance disclosure “leads to the appearance of it being inappropriate”

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  • In DC, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) must provide the DC Auditor with quarterly financial reports. The DC Auditor audits financial information, maintains a database of the information, and ensures that the reports are in compliance. Sunlight’s own Matt Rumsey thinks they should disclose this information to the public, maintaining, “It would be a small step to also make this information readily available to the public.” Rumsey provides a clear plan for how this could be done: “The press and interested members of the public could then monitor the ANC financial reports and identify mistakes, omissions, and inconsistencies that may have been missed.” Because of their lack of financial report disclosure, it “takes extremely diligent individuals significant effort and time to uncover improper or missing information.” For his entire take, see his post on Greater Greater Washington. 
  • Sunland Park, New Mexico recently had a tumultuous mayoral election that ended with a criminal investigation for voting fraud, bribery, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. After the contested election,  the Sun-News filed a public records act request to obtain a list of donors who contributed to the campaign. However, Sunland Park doesn’t require campaign finance reports to be filed by candidates. Phil Banks of Common Cause of Southern New Mexico worries that the lack of disclosure will cause elected officials to “take action to advance their contributors’ interests.” He maintains, “the obvious thing is just simply the fact that individuals who contribute — especially large amounts of money — to campaigns generally expect some reciprocity as a result. It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be favoritism. It leads to the appearance of it being inappropriate, but it’s not always.” Banks confirmed that Common Cause is forming a Las Cruces-appointed panel to revise its campaign fundraising rules. The city is currently seeking two community members to serve on the panel. For more information, see Diana Alba Soular’s post on Las Cruces Sun News. 
  • In January, Torrance County commissioners flirted with an Open Meetings Law violation by trying to pass a resolution banning public recording of their hearings. While this resolution was curbed, they recently introduced a proposal that will make it harder for citizens record hearings. The resolution calls for 24 hours written notice for any recording of meetings, requires cameras to be pointed only at commissioners, and requires citizens who srecord meetings to stay in a  designated area. According to commissioner Lonnie Freyburger, “We were getting interrupted and different things and there was editing being done on the YouTube and we wanted to get a true and accurate recording of what was going on.” The commissioners are discussing making a county record of all hearings available on their website. However,  Gwyneth Doland of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government  maintains, “… that does not — and should not — preclude the right of members of the public and the media from recording Torrance County commission meetings that are held in a public facility paid for with county taxpayer dollars.” For the whole story, check out Rob Nikolewski’s post on New Mexico Watchdog.
  • Gainesville Citizens CARE filed a lawsuit to annul a $3 billion Power Purchase Agreement contract negotiated by Gainesville Regional Utilities  and approved by the Gainesville City Council for a 100 megawatt biomass incinerator proposed by American Renewables. The lawsuit alleges  that “the contract negotiated behind closed doors in violation of the Sunshine Law be declared void and without legal effect.” According to Josh Schlossberg, “changes allegedly made in secret, without public disclosure, include an extension of the contract from 20 to 30 years, a cost increase of 25%, and the removal of a ‘back door out clause’ that would’ve allowed ‘the contract to be cancelled after its last regulatory approval and before the commencement of construction.’” For the whole story, check out his post on No Biomass Burning.
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