Debate with money and politics

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Commentary by Larry Lannan

The late Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California State Assembly in the 1960s, is credited with making one of the most succinct statements ever made about American election campaigns: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

I encounter this concept of on a regular basis covering government and politics in Fishers. Every time I write a story about agreements reached between a private business and the Town of Fishers, I can look for comments coming my way quickly.

Normally, the message goes something like this: “Don’t you know that company X held a fundraiser for politician Y just before this agreement? Why didn’t you report on that?”

Let me clue you in on something. Journalists are not normally invited to political fundraisers. Most journalists don’t have enough money to make political contributions. Even if we did, it would be unethical for a reporter to contribute to a political campaign.

Every now and then, a campaign committee or a Political Action Committee will send me a Facebook, Twitter or email message about an upcoming fundraising event. I am certain those are mistakes.

There is an open door law in Indiana requiring government entities to allow access to most documents and information about the workings of your government. The rules on campaign fundraising information are very different.

Candidate committees and PACs are required to file reports with the state and county governments. These reports are fairly detailed, showing contributions made and money spent. However, the reports are legally required to be filed infrequently.

These documents are a matter of public record. You can find the Hamilton County reports for past elections on the internet at www.hamiltoncounty.in.gov and pointing your cursor to “Voting and Elections,” and then clicking “Campaign Finance Reports.”

There is an ongoing debate about the impact money has on politics. The Supreme Court of the United States has weighed in on the subject, ruling that money is a form of speech and therefore is protected by the constitution.

I’ve come to know many politicians through my journalism career. Once I get them off the record in a private discussion, all of them make it clear they despise the time and effort required to raise enough money to fund a competitive campaign. They would rather spend time talking with voters. As the campaign for Fishers city offices begins, remember that reporters are not ignoring the money in a politics story. The information you may want just isn’t available.


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