Here in Delaware, we hear a lot about the “Veasey Report,” and its reform agenda, but what does that agenda actually entail?
At its most comprehensive, the Report called for the legal and cultural reform of Delaware’s “pay to play” political culture that has been “rationalized by some as consistent with a cynical perception of the ‘Delaware Way.’” The Report found that perception of the “Delaware Way” unacceptable and inconsistent with the views of everyday Delawareans and called for an “end” to “’pay to play’ … practices” (15).
The Report laid out a legislative agenda for change. While the General Assembly has passed some of the suggested reforms, the Veasey Agenda remains unfinished in three major areas.
First, because Christopher Tigani received three felony convictions for enlisting his employees to make political contributions that he then reimbursed, the Veasey Report recommended that donors to state campaigns be required to list their employer and occupation, as is already required for federal contributions, so that reimbursement schemes would be easier to detect (85-86). Unfortunately, a bill (HB 284) mandating that important and relatively minor change died in a House committee in 2014.
Here’s an example of why this could be useful. Last week, a bill repealing the death penalty was defeated, after a four-year struggle. I decided it would be interesting to investigate which legislators are funded by police organizations (that in Delaware oppose repeal) and whether that correlates with their position on repeal. I could easily see who police organizations funded, but there was no way to tell how many individual police officers made donations and to whom. If donors were required to list employer and occupation, that information would be easily accessible.
Second, the Veasey Report recommends a ban on contributions by entities, such as limited liability corporations (LLCs):
Permitting contributions by entities allows individuals who control multiple entities effectively to circumvent contribution limits and feeds public concern about ‘gaming the system’ and a ‘pay to play’ culture, because the existing laws permit certain individuals to have outsized political influence by virtue of their control over certain entities, and with little public transparency” (86-87).
Third, the Veasey Report wants to strengthen the Public Integrity Commission (96), an organization that is extremely underfunded. For example, as the Report notes, “the PIC budget for FY 2013 was only $188,500…. By way of comparison, Rhode Island’s Ethics Commission’s budget for 2013 was $1,560,008” (96-97). Additional funding for Delaware’s PIC could be provided by the implementation of “meaningful filing and oversight fees [on lobbyists] to be collected and used by the PIC” (100). Sadly, however, a bill to that effect (HB 305) also died in a House committee.
Finally, let’s be clear about one additional issue. The Veasey Report did not recommend raising contribution limits. While the Report notes in passing that “some of the reforms that we suggest with respect to the campaign finance laws may have the effect of reducing the sources of funds or the overall amounts that may be available to candidates,” it goes on to say, “we do not suggest that the contribution limits should be raised (or lowered) …. That is a legislative policy judgment for the General Assembly” (80-81, emphasis added).
And indeed, some members of the General Assembly are currently attempting to raise contribution limits – allowing individuals to donate an astronomical $30,000 to a political party (HB 247) – a move Common Cause Delaware strongly opposes. And adding insult to injury, they are claiming that is part of the Veasey Agenda!
Please don’t be fooled. The Veasey Report called for an end to Delaware’s entrenched “pay to play” political culture, not the injection of even more money into Delaware’s political system.