The post below was originally published on my previous site on July 17, 2015. Ritz dropped out of the governor’s race on August 7, but you already knew that.
On January 11, in a playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Dez Bryant made an unbelievable play. With the game on the line, he made a leaping catch, took three steps, reached for the goal line, ordered a hot dog, placed a call to his agent, and updated his Instagram feed. THEN he dropped the ball.
But it was a catch. I saw it. You saw it. Everyone who wasn’t wearing cheese as a hat that day knew that it was a catch. But the rule was the rule. And though the rule was written poorly, the refs had a legal leg to stand on.
Good call. Bad law.
That scenario came to mind this week when I read about Glenda Ritz’s campaign finance foibles. The two scenarios aren’t exactly the same. Bryant’s catch was a highlight. Ritz’s campaign finance report was a low. She raised $30k in the first six months of the year, while her Democrat opponent for governor, John Gregg, raised $1.7 million.
But more than $8,000 of Ritz’s dollars were raised during a period when she is legally prohibited from raising money — while the General Assembly is in session drafting a budget. It’s also coming to light that she made the same blunder in 2013.
That begs the question: Why do we have that law in the first place?
The prohibition on fundraising during the so-called long session of the General Assembly first became law in 1997, a decade in which lawmakers were taking one ethical gut punch after another. The original law only banned legislative officeholders — sitting Senators and Reps — from raising money, ostensibly to prevent them from trading favors in the budget for campaign contributions.
In 2010, the General Assembly — pressured by 20+ Indiana newspapers (not to mention a really important election months later) — passed more sweeping ethics reforms. This one gave legislators a cooling-off period before becoming lobbyists, changed reporting requirements, and extended the long session fundraising prohibition to all statewide officeholders and candidates for statewide office.
The 2010 extension was presumably done for fairness. For 13 years, while lawmakers idled their bank accounts for four months, everyone else was free to collect. And during that time, no sitting legislator earned their party’s nomination. When then-Speaker Pat Bauer touted the law, he even noted the prohibition being in place for legislators.
Fairness is the only plausible explanation. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make any practical sense to prevent the Auditor, Attorney General, or – I’m just spitballing here – the Superintendent of Public Instruction from raising money during that time. They don’t have any say in the budget anyhow.
But in 2010, several legislators were starting to eye the 2012 gubernatorial race. They knew they wouldn’t be able to raise money in the first four months of 2011. But they knew state officeholders — people like Becky Skillman, Tony Bennett and Todd Rokita — could.
So now we have a law that bans all potential gubernatorial candidates from raising money, right?
You may recall the Republican who actually did end up running for governor in 2012 was named Mike Pence. Pence, then a Congressman subjected to federal campaign finance laws, did not have to abide by the Indiana standard. Indeed, he raised $278,000 in the first quarter of 2011. When he finally declared his candidacy for governor in May, he transferred almost that exact same amount from his federal to his state coffers. A really smart, and perfectly legal, move.
That’s right. The Indiana General Assembly set up a system in which it’s more advantageous to run for governor as a member of Congress.
But the gaping hole in the finance law doesn’t stop there. It also benefits people like John Gregg who don’t currently hold a state office or hold a local office like Mayor. These people could, conceivably, open an exploratory committee (you don’t have to declare what office you’re exploring…we covered that already) and start raising money during the long session.
Gregg didn’t do that. But he could have had he not been dancing to “If You’ve Only Got A Mustache”.
That brings me back to the law. Because it can’t be evenly applied to all potential candidates, why have it at all?
Stop staring at the mustache gif and pay attention.
If some people can raise money, but others can’t. Get rid of it.
Barring state lawmakers from fundraising during a budget session is purely symbolic anyway. If you really believe lobbyists are buying appropriations (and I don’t), is it better that they can only do so up to the day session starts and again the day after it ends?
But until and unless the law is repealed, you simply gotta follow it. Especially if you want to hold the highest office in the state.