Tuesday, June 28, 2016

COMMON CAUSE: STILL POLLUTING, NOT PROMOTING, DEBATE ON PUBLIC FINANCING

[NOTE: In my previous blog on the issue of public funding of qualifying candidates, I noted the disparity between Common Cause’s claim to “[empower] ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process” and its conduct in trying to discourage anyone who disagrees with its position on this issue.  Common Cause wants City Council to meet briefly to pass its proposal as an ordinance; I desire a public disclosure and debate in advance of any decision whether by Council vote or a ballot vote.  In this open letter recently emailed to the Las Cruces Mayor, all other members of City Council, and others in the community, I now detail the efforts of Common Cause’s agents and its local loyalists to discredit dissenters from their views.]


Mr. Mayor:

I write to expand on my reply to some email exchanges Thursday and Friday in the on-going controversy about public financing of local candidates for elected offices.  (I shall send all relevant emails to those requesting them so that they can judge for themselves matters discussed below.)  I copy others to inform them about the state of discourse on this issue and concerted efforts to discredit me by impugning my character because of my presumed opposition to the Common Cause proposal.  I say “presumed” because my questions and criticisms want facts and note flaws; if they are not answered or rebutted, I shall oppose public money spent without likely greater benefit.  The strategy of its advocates reflects a commonplace legal strategy: if the facts are against you, argue the law; when if the law is against you, argue the facts; and if both are against you, attack opposing counsel.

Thursday began with your calling into question my transparency, with the obvious implication that, if I were not transparent according to your definition of “public figure,” not letting you know who were receiving my emails suggested to you that I was operating in a shady manner.  You had my response, but there is still more to say.

As Mayor and head of City Council, you are unquestionably a “public figure.”  Yet Counselors and you are considering behind closed doors in smoke-free rooms—actually, most Council members already approve—a Common Cause proposal for public financing.  At public forums, Common Cause agents, some Councilors, other advocates, and you have made presentations to generally uninformed audiences in no position to know whether your representations accurately report on the proposal provisions, including the provision mandating annual funding, or to ask informed questions.  Such problems exist.

For instance, this past Thursday, at a PVA meeting, I addressed this funding provision and explained its consequences.  I said that it did not matter whether the proposal included a mandate or not because the proposal would always present a choice between funds for candidates and funds for other purposes, particularly social services, the only difference being that a mandate made the decision permanent, not annual.  Craig Fenske countered by claiming that the proposal contained no mandate.  Afterwards, at the PVA party, Don Kurtz explained to me that the provision was like other mandates—admitting that it was a mandate—which commit present and future funds to pay off bonds, etc.  My reply that bonds, unlike the proposed provision, are not funded by general revenues did not please him.  An earlier example: speaking on a panel moderated by Peter Goodman, Councilor Gil Sorg stated that the proposal cost was $100,000 a year over 8 years.  False: it is $200,000 a year over a 4-year election cycle.  Did Sorg misspeak, misrepresent the proposal, or not understand what he supports?  If advocates contradict each other on its funding provision or misreport it for whatever reason, who else can understand, much less evaluate, the proposal?

So I propose, in the interest of transparency, that you arrange for the city website to provide, and prominently indicate the means to view, the latest version of the proposal.  Citizens could decide for themselves what the proposal says or does not say.  It would make clear whether Fenske or Kurtz is accurately representing or reasonably interpreting the funding mechanism.  It would enable citizens to learn what else the proposal includes or excludes, and whether the proposal serves public, not special, interests.

On that point, when Councilor Smith and you met with me, you explained that the funds were for inexperienced, unknown, unfunded candidates, and recited your history as one such candidate when you began your political career.  It had not occurred to me otherwise, so I overlooked the omission of anything in the proposal to preclude present and former elected officials from using these funds in their future campaigns.  However, later, someone’s “Sound Off” stated just such a suspicion: City Council members want no restrictions on their eligibility to make funding their future campaigns easier.  It implies that the proposal is a disingenuous ploy to help fill City Council members’ campaign coffers.  Your transparency might address this suspicion and disclose other flaws.

Absent a published proposal, a public statement of the problems, a discussion showing that the proposal solves them, a cost-benefit analysis, criteria of success (or failure), and a sunset provision, advocates can say anything to anyone at any time to promote the proposal.  In the absence of this public information, discussion degenerates into personal attacks on those criticizing something about which even advocates do not agree.  Your Thursday morning question challenging my integrity was followed by Kurtz’s Thursday night warning—how did Kurtz know?—that Common Cause would “deal with” me in a Friday email smear by Aaron Sherb at Common Cause’s Washington headquarters.  This timing and the link between Kurtz and Sherb suggest collusion to discredit me by assassinating my character.  No surprise: those who refuse to answer reasonable questions and respond to criticisms of a proposal have few alternatives.  Set aside your innuendo about my integrity and your definition of me as a public figure, a definition relevant to libel, and Fenske’s and Sherb’s lawyerly avoidance of libel by using cognates of “seem” to insinuate my indifference to “dark money” or my dishonesty in reporting agreement that the CCNM funding mechanism is “unusual,” respectively.  Your failure to promote informed and unfettered public discussion on so important an issue as elections and their funding, and advocates’ misinformation, contradiction, and personal attack are good reasons to question their integrity and their and its purposes.  If the time and energy devoted to discrediting me had been put into addressing obvious questions and concerns, everyone would be better served, not least the public.

So I repeat my opening suggestion: get the proposal on the website.  I repeat a previous suggestion: have someone—Common Cause, city staff, or the city lawyer—prepare a competent rationale of it.  I urged one over 6 months ago when Fenske, Peter Goodman, and I lunched in mid-December, and I offered to help Fenske prepare one.  Fenske indicated agreement with and acceptance of my good-faith offer, but he did not follow through; instead, he later misrepresented my position on “dark money” in a column which did little or nothing for informed discussion of the proposal.  It is long since time for City Council and Common Cause to come clean—to be transparent—by fully disclosing all relevant public documents and by promoting informed and honest democratic debate of this proposal.

Michael

1 comment:

  1. So far, three out of the ten board members of Progressive Voters Alliance have directly made or indirectly supported personal attacks on me in response to my criticisms of the Common Cause proposal to provide some public financing to candidates for local office. Steve Fischmann addressed his comments to me and other PVA board members. Don Kurtz apparently assisted Common Cause in a dishonest public attack on my credibility. In an email copied to all members of City Council, Maggie Griffin attacked my issue-oriented arguments as “emails promoting your bloated opinion of yourself.”

    I have addressed the issues of the Common Cause proposal in conversation with their agents and in the media. I have copied my columns, blogs, or relevant correspondence to many citizens, including PVA board members, as is my right and is my exercise of that right in presenting my views on a matter of public policy. I have not addressed or even referred to the PVA, its board, the members of the board, or its members. So what accounts for the personal abuse from three out of ten PVA leaders? My answer is their inability to respond to the criticisms which I raise, their intolerance of views dissenting from theirs, and their preference for getting their views advanced by any means fair or foul.

    Notably missing from the discussion are any columnists or reporters who are members of or attend PVA meetings. I suppose that they know from my experience what awaits them were they to offer criticism of the Common Cause proposal even in a balanced assessment of it.

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