In The Pocket?

Something I’ve put off commenting about is brewing under the surface and hinted at in various places in the Times-Call and the internet. Were four councilmembers (Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison) bought and paid for by special interests?

Much was made of candidate, now councilmember, Gabe Santos receiving a contribution of $5,000 by the Longmont Association of Realtors in January, 2008. As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen any proposed ordinances or resolutions brought forward in the name of this organization, so obviously there’s not been a vote. Nevermind, it takes more than a lone vote on council to pass such a thing.

On the other hand, there has been a major issue brought forward that could change our city charter and at the very least will cost the city thousands of dollars in a special election: collective bargaining for certain police and fire employees. I advocated for this group in 2004, and am leaning towards voting their way once again this year, so this has nothing to do with pro or anti-union positions. As hard as it may be, put that aside for the sake of this discussion.

Let’s look at the hard numbers: Karen Benker received a $1,500 cash donation and a $266.75 endorsement advertisement from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Brian Hansen received a $500 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy. Sean McCoy received a $1,000 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy from the Longmont Police Officers Assocation (LPOA). Sarah Levison received a $1,000 cash donation from the LPOA, but I can’t find an ad buy. No other candidates received these donations, and I’ve been told all were interviewed. This is a grand total of $4,800.25.

Since this is not a partisan group (some would argue that point), like one of the political parties (we’re supposed to have a non-partisan electoral structure in Longmont), I don’t have too many issues with these donations. But when these same four councilmembers went after Gabe Santos for his contribution based on what might occur, perhaps they were thinking of what they might do with such a contribution, and now have done precisely that. They’ve proven their own case that money could corrupt city politics.

When the unionization concept was brought to council on first reading, these four didn’t much question the language, all four voted for it with little hesitation. The other three members of council (Lange, Blue, and Santos) had specific concerns and questions, and the players (FD/FD, city staff, attorneys) had meetings and hammered out something more palatable and something with a higher likelihood of voter approval. But Benker, McCoy, Hansen, and Levison had nothing to do with that, they liked it just the way it was. In a twisted way, the collective bargaining team just upped their odds by working on what the three dissenting votes had to say. Not the four they contributed to.

A big concern that’s been conveyed to me, and I agree, is that this vote may become a referendum on city council, these four members in particular. It’s not fair to our police and fire employees to be saddled with that. If that’s truly a concern amongst voters, especially those in favor of this collective bargaining, how about separating it out and just have a flat out recall of these four members?

Yeah, I know, fat chance and a little extreme. But I do have an easier alternative: each of these four councilmembers make $1,000 a month for the service they provide, and don’t get me wrong, as much as I tear into them (and previous councils as well, for those that have forgotten), they do put in a lot of their own time in their elected positions. I suggest, to avoid any suggestion of impropriety, and to truly help the police and fire employees they claim to support, that these four councilmembers forego enough of their stipend equal to these contributions and put it back into the General Fund.

This isn’t a pledge I expect them to take, but what a message it would send if they did. What political harm could it do? And if they’re adamantly opposed to this idea, you should ask why. It could help our fine police and fire employees, our hurting budget, and send a clear message that council is not for sale.

Udall’s Dirty Money

Most of the time I don’t bother with stories that are national in scale. Plenty of other people better than I can do that. But when an aspect of a national story has a local connection, I think it’s worth reporting. This is especially the case if the Longmont paper barely glosses over it, or as in this case doesn’t mention it at all. Quite often the paper will republish an Associated Press story; I didn’t see that done either.

The story here is disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu and the connection to Colorado congressman Mark Udall, who also has announced he is running for the U.S. Senate in 2008. At first glance the $1,000 Udall accepted from Hsu seems fairly small and he’s said he’s going to donate it to the Colorado National Guard Foundation. Of course there’s more to this story, there always is.

Anyone with an ounce of brains should be wary of what I’ll call the ” 5 C’s“, The Clinton Chinese Campaign Contributions Connection. Do the names John Huang or Maria Hsia ring a bell? I know some of you would like to forget or sweep this under the rug, but at least 17 people were convicted for fraud and funneling money from Communist China to the Democratic National Committee. Further, Al Gore attended a fund raising event at a Buddhist temple. It is illegal under U.S. law for religious organizations to donate money to politicians or political groups due to their tax-exempt status. The DNC had to return this $100,000.

So, a 15-year Chinese fugitive from the law wants to ” help” out the DNC, any takers? You bet, plenty. Names like Clinton (Hsu’s a ” Hillraiser“), Kerry, Kennedy, Boxer, Feinstein, Franken, and Obama lined up. And of course, Colorado’s own Udall. On top of the $1,000 he’s giving back, let’s not forget the $5,000 he got from the Hsu funded “For A Change PAC”, the $10,000 from the Hsu funded “Searchlight Leadership Fund” (Harry Reid’s PAC), and $40,000 from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committees, also recipients of large Hsu donations.

Given recent history of Chinese contributors (more “Friends of Bill”), wouldn’t you run for the hills if someone like this approached you? This speaks poorly of Congressman Udall and his staff’s judgment at the very least. If accepting these donations were no accident or coincidence, it says much worse. Cunningham and Abramoff better make room for company, and I’m not talking about visitors.