Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mason to return or donate up to $100,000 in employee contributions

Seeking to end this week's controversy over county reform and money in local politics, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason says he'll return campaign contributions he's taken from his own employees. If an employee doesn't want the money back, he'll donate it to charity.

Mason could give up as much as $100,000 in campaign contributions -- that's how much he got from prosecutor's office employees between 2004 and 2008.

If Issue 6 passes, Mason added, he'll set up a panel to write campaign finance reform rules for the proposed new Cuyahoga County government. "We will... deliver provisions that can be considered and acted upon as soon as the new county government is formed," his Saturday e-mail to the Plain Dealer said.

This is an important promise. Take a look at Saturday's letter to the editor from Ohio Citizen Action's Catherine Turcer:

1) There are no limits on campaign contributions to candidates for county-level office; 2) employees are permitted to contribute to their bosses, reinforcing patronage; 3) pay-to-play limits affect only those with unbid contracts and are hard to enforce; and 4) campaign contribution information for candidates for county office and public officials is not available online, which is the very definition of transparency today.

By addressing the issue, Mason is trying to stop a strong counterattack from Issue 5 supporters. Tarred as defenders of the status quo in Cuyahoga County, this week they grabbed campaign finance reform to try to position themselves as bolder reformers than the Issue 6 side. The Issue 5 side attacked Mason for taking checks from his employees, then declared that their campaign wouldn't take any donations from county workers and promised that the pro-5 charter commission slate would address campaign finance reform. Issue 6's proposed charter doesn't include any new campaign finance rules.

Mason's two moves should neutralize this attack. The 5 side will probably say, "How do we know that we'll get campaign finance reform if 6 passes?" -- but the obvious counterattack from the 6 side will be, "How do we know what kind of reform we'll get on any subject if 5 passes?" Issue 5 would set up a charter commission, and the pro-5 charter commission slate has said little about what kind of charter they'd write if elected -- they just promise an open process.

One more Mason note: meanwhile, he's quarrelling with the PD because the paper is questioning his hiring of campaign donor Bobby DiGeronimo's daughter-in-law.

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