Friday, April 15, 2005

Ethics, Campaign Finance, Tranparency: New to San Antonio

Issues related to ethics, campaign finance and transparency are likely to figure prominently in this election cycle. This is surely to be compounded by the fact that both the candidates and the City Clerk’s office seem to have been unprepared for the accounting and processing this information would require. Nor did either the City or the various campaigns seem to anticipate the public interest in easily accessible CFR information.

In addition to the obvious ethical issues raised by the information provided in the CFR’s, there are striking competency questions raised as well. Many of the candidates running for City Council, of all political persuasions from all over the city, have either incompletely or inadequately filled out their CFR’s. Others have failed to report at all. An incredulous number seem unable to accurately balance a $4000 campaign budget, let alone a $1.5 billion City budget. Various campaigns are accusing each other of dishonesty when the real villain is as often incompetence.

When following up on various candidates’ charges and counter charges we have found that the City Clerk’s office is the source of the discrepancy as often as candidate incompetence. Currently CFR’s are filed in so many formats that it is all the Clerk can do to keep track of the various reports. According to the Clerk’s office, “computer glitches” have been a problem. There is also a question regarding the electronic Notarization process. Apparently, whoever fills out the form electronically just pushes an “I Swear” button and this counts as a Notary. There is case law on this subject and electronic remedies are available, but I have serious doubts that what the City has instituted would pass legal muster.

In essence it seems that in this election cycle, what transparency reveals is a mess. It is our hope that in the future, whoever is elected to lead San Antonio will make Electoral and Government transparency a real priority. High spoken words and Commissions of Elders to address ethics in politics are insufficient. They must be followed up with competence and with efficient systems if they are to be effective. Integrity at City Hall will be not be enhanced by merely asking our elected officials to adequately police each other. It will only come when we, as citizens, have the adequate informational resources to hold them accountable ourselves.

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