There is too much campaign money at every level of American political life. National, state and local candidates spend far too much time chasing donations. This constant pursuit and flow of money distract and discourage the best candidates and tempt the less-principled into favoritism and corruption. Transparency and strictly enforced regulations are essential.
But the City Council's 2017 “pay to play” ordinance was a bad idea. We said so at the time, as did Mayor Tom Henry, who vetoed it, only to be overridden by the council. Now, a year and a half later, an Allen Superior Court judge has blocked enforcement of the pay to play measure.
The idea was to prevent favoritism by forbidding companies to bid on city contracts if any of their owners or partners had donated more than $2,000 to a city official's campaign. Councilmen John Crawford, R-at large, and Jason Arp, R-4th, who championed the ordinance, said over the years incumbent mayors have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from firms interested in receiving city contracts. That didn't mean favoritism had actually been practiced, they argued, but the measure would prevent even the appearance of conflict of interest.
As we pointed out, those intent on donating on behalf of their businesses could use other avenues, such as political action committees, to donate with even less transparency. And serious questions were raised about whether the city had the legal standing to set election-related rules.
Tuesday, Judge Jennifer DeGroote answered those questions in a clear, strong ruling, permanently forbidding Fort Wayne from enforcing the pay to play ordinance because the city has no right to rule on matters already regulated by the state.
“The field of election law, including campaign finance and campaign contributions, is fully occupied by existing state law. ... No powers over election matters have been vested in municipalities,”DeGroote wrote.
The City Council certainly isn't the only rulemaking body that has pressed ahead with measures almost certain to ultimately fail. As DeGroote noted, the measure's advocates were well intentioned. But the result was a long and costly battle over a law many said from the beginning was invalid.