[r54] The Motives Behind Election Law Amendments (4/14/2009)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Start Date: 4/14/2009 All Day
End Date: 4/14/2009
The papers will pick up on the big issues of this legislative session - such as the unemployment insurance trust fund and the budget - and other issues that are important in our area, such as the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home and moving railroad cars out of New Castle.  Yet, there will be a hundred little items, little debates and battles that are never picked up.

And sometimes, these minor battles reveal the most about our lawmaking process and our political process . and, occasionally, the interaction between the two. 

On Monday, the House heard Senate Bill 209, a bill regarding elections and ballots, on second reading.  There were six amendments, or changes, offered on the bill.  Three of those amendments were adopted; three were not. 

However, there are two amendments in particular I want to tell you about, because the discussion, the outcome and the possible intent of the amendments was striking.

The first amendment was adopted, despite some reasonable objections.  The amendment prohibits campaign contributions from businesses that contract with the state if those contracts total more than $50,000.  These businesses are required to register with the election board, and, if a business violates the provision, they'll be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. 

On the surface, this seems like a great idea aimed at clearing up any corruption in the election process.  In fact, I believe that is its intention.  Nevertheless, the amendment conveniently leaves out some important groups and focuses all its attention on businesses. 

What about organizations such as the Indiana State Teachers Association?  While the ISTA doesn't contract directly with the state, it is almost entirely funded by people who do contract with the government - teachers. 

It was brought to the attention of the full House that there is only one group that contributes more than $ 1 million dollars to House campaigns - ISTA.  And almost all of it goes to Democrat candidates. 

On the other hand, House Republican candidates receive a lot of their contributed funding from businesses.

Many of us, particularly on the Republican side, thought it was odd that the Democrats would offer an amendment to clear up corruption for businesses that contribute to campaigns without including equal provisions for other organizations that contribute to campaigns, such as political action committees like the ISTA.

Still, I voted to approve the amendment, and so did the majority of House members on both sides of the political divide.  I am all for increasing the integrity of our election process - even if that leaves out some things I think need to be examined.

But less than an hour later, the House turned down another amendment aiming to reduce election corruption.  This second amendment required the state's chief election officials to request a list of registered voters from surrounding states to compare them to Indiana's list every year.  The idea behind this amendment was very clear: to check for any duplications or voter fraud. 

Unlike the first amendment, this one didn't invigorate the same heated discussion.  The only argument against it was fear that it could be difficult to verify the identity of people with very common names, such as John Smith.  Upon further clarification, the amendment's author explained this could be cleared up by checking voters' birth dates or Social Security numbers. 

Yet, this amendment failed to gain enough votes to be added to the bill.  With a few exceptions, it was a party-line vote, with most Democrats voting "No" and all Republicans voting "Yes."

I was left wondering how this amendment managed to fail, especially after we'd just passed another, more controversial amendment with the same stated intent. 

Unfortunately, this comes down to the same problem we seem to have with a lot of issues: Too many times, legislators are more concerned with political expediency than they are with doing what is right and honest. 

If we can't come together with consistency on this issue of reducing voter and campaign corruption, what are the odds we'll be able to come together for the big issues, such as a two-year state budget?

Regardless of the endless partisanship in the Indiana Statehouse, regardless of the not-so-honest intentions behind some legislation, I will continue to place my votes according to what I think is best and right for District 54 - not for political expediency. 

And, as always, I'll trust you to decide whether or not I've lived up to my responsibility to represent you and your family.