Monday, January 19, 2009

Two clucks; one chicken pox

This is a special week with Martin Luther King holiday (and the national day of service) and the Inauguration of Barack Obama. Pick your theme: "Yes, We Can" or "We Are One." With the exception of a few sore losers or perennial pessimists, American seems to be rising through the adversity of recession and war with a abiding belief in the possibilities of our future as evidenced in the uplifting experiences of our nation's past. We'll learn plenty of history about inaugurations and presidents over the next few days. But, our hearts and souls will sing with the new president as our hopes rise for our nation's, indeed the world's, future.
Hopefully, you'll find a little time for community service today. Clean up a road, donate time or money to a food pantry, help an elderly neighbor, donate blood... the list it long and the needs great. Don't make it a one day deal - keep it up throughout the year.
It a time when even Washington D.C. is in a rare bipartisan mood (hope it lasts a long while) and Governor Tim Kaine made a remarkable State of the Commonwealth speech reaching across party lines to find solutions to Virginia's budget crisis. But, there are some who persist in the partisan sniping that spoils the moment, that sounds good but is actually designed to jab with a gotta-ya. Partisanship that gets in the way of the problem solving that will be instrumental in solving the giant hole in the state's budget.
Such is the case with HB 1634 which would prohibit legislators from attending any fundraiser during a session of the General Assembly. Legislators are already prohibited from conducting their own campaign fundraisers during the session - I think this is okay, but it is bit naive to think a campaign donation made a day before or a day after the session is somehow less tainted. HB 1634 expands the ban to include attending other fundraisers such as political party or any other group that contributed to the candidate during the prior year - which could include organizations who do great work in our communities.
Here's where the partisanship kicks in - everyone knows this bill was intended to torpedo the Virginia Democrats traditional Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner held each February and keep Democrats in the General Assembly away from their party's premier event. While supporters of the bill insist it is all about ethics and transparency (they doth protest too much), the partisanship is obvious to everyone.
Some concerns:
  • At a time when bipartisan cooperation is most needed in our state and nation, the supporters of this bill are undermining good legislation that spirit in the legislature.
  • There are clear First Amendment freedom of association issues in saying a legislator can't meet with someone or a group who gave him or her a campaign donation in the past.
  • Virginia law places no dollar limits on contributions but this law would place an unreasonable time/place limit. Is it limiting freedom of speech?
  • State law already mandates disclosure of a candidate's donations and expenditures - information which anyone can access at The Virginia Public Access Project and judge for themselves.
While the bill easily passed the House of Delegates, it faces a tougher ride in the Senate and, if it survives there, a likely veto by the Governor. All that will survive is the political posturing of its supporters during campaign '09. Another pox on bipartisanship.

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