Doing the right thing isn’t easy, but Ryan Beasley, treasurer of the Gardner Recall Committee, has stepped up and filed the group’s campaign finance report. This was the second report filed, both after the Dec. 31 deadline. The first report did not itemize donors. But after a citizen’s complaint was filed, Beasley submitted the second report last week.
We were informed of the report’s submission by Beasley’s explanatory letter to the editor, which we’ve published on page 3 of today’s paper.
There’s been a lot of arm waving and controversy on our web site, www.gardnernews.com, after we posted the report Friday afternoon, but campaign finance reports are nothing new. In fact, the law has been in place for more than 50 years. We routinely request and review them.
The report is a laundry list of donors and expenses. The law exists to let taxpayers know who helped finance campaigns, and anyone familiar with the election process understands they should have no expectation of anonymity, especially those who have held elected office. To ask campaign organizers to keep a donation secret puts the campaign in jeopardy and flies in the face of the law.
Beasley said the tardiness of the report was due to “gray areas” in the finance law in regard to second class cities and recall elections. Steve Howe, District Attorney, echoed Beasley’s comments, but also said he believed voters would want as much transparency as possible.
We agree, both on the transparency issue and with regard to the need for the legislature to clean up, and standardize, campaign finance laws.
We would also think the due date should be within 30 days of the election, rather than Dec. 31, and those involved in the campaign be required to show identification. But getting the legislature to streamline laws is about as likely as having them balance the state’s budget.
We were a bit surprised to see Dave Drovetta, mayor, listed as a donor. Although his itemized donation is only listed as $25, it sets a bad precedent. This is America, and we have the right to donate to whom we choose, however, for a sitting mayor to donate to a recall campaign to remove duly elected officials when he will make replacement appointments raises red flags.
Drovetta should have no expectation of privacy, because we have previously reviewed his campaign finance report, as we have others.
Also listed on the document were others who have previously been on the ballot, the largest donor being the Dennis Pugh campaign which is listed as donating $2,000. This is not illegal, and although not commonplace, former candidates have been known to “pass on” their left over donations.
Now we know how the recall of council members Mary Peters and John Shepherd will appear to those who inherit this community years from now; we know it because committee members filed a more detailed report.
The future narrative will likely be a tale of how a mayor who won a nasty election by a mere four votes, and the candidates who lost council seats, rose up to recall the people who defeated them.
That may not be the exact truth, but that is how it will appear to future generations. In part, it’s going to look that way because so many of the donors on the campaign finance report that the Johnson County District Attorney’s office insisted the Gardner Recall Committee turn in are anonymous.
Ironically, the group who once charged Shepherd and Peters with a lack of transparency is angry that they were forced to reveal their donors. One would think that a group so committed to transparency would err on the side of it and instead insist to their donors that they would be a fully open group.
We’re being told citizens are going to request other campaign reports be reviewed or filed. Good.
Residents should take an interest, become educated to issues and take active part in the election process.
As we said, it’s hard to do the right thing. But it’s necessary.